County jail inmates' complaints hard to fix Outmoded facility's conditions get in the way of complete medical care


Baltimore County officials are moving to bolster medical services to women jammed into an overflowing jail, but say inmate complaints about other problems aren't easily fixed in the outmoded building.

EMSA Correctional Care, a Florida firm that has the $1.4 million annual contract for medical care at the county's jails, is ready to hire a physician's assistant to improve services for inmates, said county Corrections Administrator James M. Dean.

But, he added, only emergency care is available nights and weekends, and conditions in the women's jail are difficult, especially when the 40-year-old building is so crowded.

Other problems remain at the jail in Towson.

Hot, stagnant air in a third-floor cellblock and in the windowless gym is oppressive on warm days, all agree. But inmates aren't allowed to use an outdoor basketball court, officials say, because neighbors have complained about loud, abusive language when such exercise was allowed.

"There is no question that the gym becomes extremely hot," county Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly wrote to inmate Diane V. Austin on Aug. 19, offering no alternative. He said inmates have access to water and ice when temperatures exceed 90 degrees.

Crowding, which forces the daily use of nearly every inside space, also prevents more than one visit with children per month, Dean said.

The women's jail is part of a complex that includes the original 1854 jail and five trailers on Bosley Avenue at Towsontown Boulevard. Yesterday, 156 women were in the cells, six fewer than Aug. 15, when two inmates were released a few days early because of crowding.

Although a consultant recommended replacing the building by 1999, the county has allocated $600,000 to repair plumbing and electrical problems next year, with another $830,000 scheduled to replace windows in 2002.

The county has no long-range plan for relieving the chronic jail crowding.

Inmates have complained that with only one physician working 40 hours weekly to cover both the old jail and the new detention center -- with a total of more than 1,100 inmates -- medical needs aren't being met.

Twenty-six female inmates jointly wrote The Sun recently, complaining that no routine medical care is available on weekends, and that requests for medication sometimes are ignored. Another inmate wrote separately to county officials with many of the same complaints.

"None of these women have committed violent crimes, but we are being treated like this is a super-max facility," wrote the women, whose complaints ranged from the infrequent visits with children to the small size of soap bars.

The 26 also charged that a woman whose February entrance physical showed a lump in one breast later was diagnosed with cancer but was denied medical care through late last month.

Dean said the inmates are wrong. He confirmed that a lump was found in the woman's breast, but said she was never diagnosed with cancer. He would not deny that follow-up testing and treatment were delayed.

He said a surgeon from nearby St. Joseph Medical Center was called to the jail to examine the woman, and that a biopsy was scheduled for last Friday.

On Thursday, Dean arranged for her early release from a six-month sentence for a parole violation, he said. Ordinarily, she would have been released later this month.

"This way she could go to her own professionals. I think we provided as much treatment as we could," he said, adding that he spoke to her after learning of the complaint from a reporter.

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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