City inmate's right to possess quarters examined by jail officials, lawyers


The rules of the Baltimore City Detention Center are clear -- no shanks, no ropes, no files. And soon quarters may be added to the list.

Quarters? The coin minted with George Washington's profile and the word Liberty? The two bits used to make a phone call? Those quarters?

"We consider the possession of money a grave security risk," said LaMont Flanagan, the acting commissioner of the downtown detention center. "Inmates at the detention center presently walk around with money. They are entitled to obtain $3 worth of quarters. This practice encourages gambling or bartering, which can result in violence. It also encourages larcenies. Quarters can be placed in a sock and used as weapons. This is a rule we inherited."

And Mr. Flanagan, who has run the former Baltimore City Jail since the state took it over last summer, doesn't want money changing hands in his jail. To stop it, he has proposed replacing the 40-plus pay phones at the jail with those that make "collect-only" calls.

In that way, Mr. Flanagan said he can eliminate the need for having thousands upon thousands of quarters available at the jail commissary.

But an attorney for the facility's 3,000 inmates says that removing the pay phones will result in an unwelcome expense for his clients -- the cost of a collect call is 85 cents. And, some inmates may even be prevented from getting in touch with their families because the phones in their homes are blocked from accepting collect calls, said Frank Dunbaugh, the Annapolis lawyer who has represented jail inmates since the late 1970s when they filed a lawsuit over conditions at the jail.

"Why should my clients' families pay 85 cents for a call that costs everybody else 25 cents?" asked Mr. Dunbaugh, who is fighting the proposed change in the 1988 consent decree that settled the inmates' legal action. "We want 25-cent calls. We wouldn't object to the calls being billed to their commissary accounts, if you want to get rid of the money."

State officials maintain that collect-only phones are used in many local Maryland jails as well as state prisons. The dispute will be settled by U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman, who has been monitoring conditions at the former city jail.

Lawyers for both sides have been asked by Judge Kaufman to determine whether federal detention centers use collect-only phones. The Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal holding facility in New York City, does.

Mr. Flanagan, the detention center commissioner, maintains that jail social workers can make calls for inmates who have family emergencies. The state public defender's office, which represents many of the detention center's inmates, has reopened an office at the jail, making the need to reach lawyers by phone less pressing, Mr. Flanagan said.

Installing collect-only phones "will enhance our security operation," Mr. Flanagan said.

It also will increase the $5,000 monthly commission the detention center receives from the pay phones. But Mr. Flanagan said the money goes directly to the inmate welfare fund, which buys televisions, VCRs and movies for use in the jail.

The state doesn't get a penny of it, he said.

The practice of giving inmates $3 in quarters "is a substantial burden on our financial operation," said Mr. Flanagan. "We've got a population of 3,000 . . . to make change, in quarters for all of these people?"

' That's 36,000 quarters.

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