Inmates at the Central Booking and Intake Center in Baltimore still had only a limited supply of hot water for showers this week, despite efforts to fix the problem, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“People in jails need regular access to hot water for reasons of basic human dignity and sanitation,” said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “Jails are by their nature unhygienic places, and as we’ve seen in recent years, can be Petri dishes for viruses like COVID and other communicable diseases to spread among staff and detainees alike.
“Having hot water available for cleaning and washing surfaces and for showers will result in more thorough and effective cleaning of shared surfaces and of peoples’ bodies. Dependable access to a sufficient quantity of hot water in the jail is not a luxury, but a necessity to maintain hygiene and sanitation.”
Latoya Gray, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said a new water heater was installed at the facility last week, but the ACLU said Wednesday that problems with hot water persisted this week.
“State correctional facilities are 24/7/365 operations,” Gray said. “It is not unusual for there to be infrastructure and utility issues in facilities that never shut down.”
On Jan. 20, maintenance staff noticed issues with the hot water at Central Booking, Gray said. There was hot water, she said, but the temperature was inconsistent on some floors.
A temporary fix was made while new equipment was ordered, Gray said. A contract was awarded in February, and installation of the new equipment was completed last week, Gray said. The repairs cost the state $124,710, and Maryland Mechanical Systems Inc. did the installation.
When the ACLU visited Central Booking on Feb. 15 and 16, several incarcerated people told Kendrick that there hadn’t been hot water for three weeks, and inmates were forgoing showers, she said. After Kendrick tested the water, she found it was warm only intermittently.
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On Wednesday, when Kendrick visited Central Booking again, several detainees in the infirmary and in a general population unit at the facility’s central tower said the water was not consistently hot.
Kendrick said she turned on a shower at the infirmary to test it and only cold water came out, validating the recent concerns. Custody staff told Kendrick that it takes a long time for the water to get cold, Kendrick said.
Kendrick noted that she did not test the showers in the general population unit because male inmates were in the showers at the time.
“In terms of the physical conditions at [Central Booking], we hear concerns about ventilation and temperature control, hot water, mold, and general cleanliness,” Kendrick said. “We often see these problems when we go into the living units of the jail.”
Gray said there are no major hot water or mold issues at Central Booking housing units at present that they are aware of.
Correctional facilities always have maintenance projects underway, Gray said, such as a current HVAC project at Central Booking. The corrections department asks inmates to notify staff of any issues so their facility maintenance teams can address them, Gray said.
In January, a detainee was found dead in a housing area at Central Booking. In February, a correctional officer was arrested and is charged with smuggling drugs into the facility.