Weeks after Baltimore announced plans to construct a new, $30 million youth jail, a motion filed by the ACLU, Public Justice Center, and Law Offices of Elizabeth Alexander claims detainees are routinely denied life-saving medications, due to systemic failures in the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC). In addition to gross medical neglect, the motion alleges that inmates are also housed in moldy, vermin-infested units that exacerbate existing health problems.
The organizations behind the motion conducted a comprehensive review of 13 death cases and 24 randomly-selected medical records from 2013 to 2015, concluding that inmates with chronic diseases had their medications interrupted. For instance, an HIV-positive detainee alleges his antiretrovirals were taken away upon entry, but nurse notes indicate that some of his medication wasn’t available, which is why he didn’t receive it for five days. BCDC allegedly failed to give another inmate with a significantly low white blood cell count his prescribed retrovirals until shortly before his death. The review says hypertensive cardiovascular disease claimed the life of another detainee who was prescribed medication for his blood pressure and heart but was never given the proper drugs. Due in part to a failure to complete ordered laboratory tests, another person allegedly died of because of blood in the sac close to her heart. And people with diabetes allegedly did not receive prescribed insulin for extended periods of time, and had their dietary restrictions ignored.
The motion also claims that inmates with physical disabilities are denied proper medical attention. On multiple occasions, BCDC allegedly failed to give an inmate with urinary problems clean catheters, and the one bathroom he can access is flooded. The motion also mentions a detainee relegated to a defective wheelchair who had back pain for five months, but wasn’t given his muscle relaxant. Additionally, the motion claimed an amputee with severe pain hasn’t had a thorough exam to evaluate his pain or prescribe the most effective medication.
In addition to insufficient medical treatment, the motion details unsanitary conditions that worsen the health of inmates. One diabetic inmate’s food is allegedly exposed to cockroaches and other vermin residing in his cell. Insects reportedly bite inmates, leaving them with nasty infections. Mice are commonplace. Mold is growing in showers, vents, and toilet areas, and plumbing failures often leave detainees without sink water and the ability to flush toilets. A lack of consistent laundry services allegedly forces inmates to hand-wash their clothes in buckets, thereby exposing them to avoidable diseases.
“Over and over again, detainees in need of medical attention and treatment for infections, injuries, psychiatric conditions, and other urgent health concerns wait for days and weeks, their suffering prolonged to the point of cruelty,” Debra Gardner, the Public Justice Center’s legal director, noted in a press release. “These conditions are unconscionable for those in the jail but also create public health concerns. We refuse to give up on the thousands held in Baltimore’s only jail and the communities to which they return.”
BCDC has been embroiled in legal battles over detainees’ treatment since 1993. The oldest continuously operating penal facility, which generally houses people waiting for their trial date, is a hotbed of corruption and staff misconduct. Rampant gang violence is recognized as a product of poor jail conditions. Moreover, youth are held in solitary confinement for days and weeks, and rehabilitation programs are scarce.