Six former and current inmates claim Maryland’s prison system systemically fails to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and that prison guards made a one-legged man hop into and out of the showers with no support, according to a federal lawsuit.
In a case filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, six inmates who have been housed at various facilities throughout Maryland’s state prison system allege a culture of noncompliance with the ADA alongside an indifference by prison guards to their plight. The inmates are suing the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and a number of prison officials.
One of the plaintiffs, Karl Rogers, a single-leg amputee, claims that guards at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center (MRDCC) in Baltimore forced him to shower without assistance for his handicap, leading him to seriously injure himself.
The lawsuit claims that guards would not allow him to enter the facility in a wheelchair and that the facility itself “does not have handicapped showers, handrails, anti-slip guards, or shower chairs for disabled prisoners.”
"Consequently, MRDCC staff forced Mr. Rogers to hop on one leg in and out of the shower facilities on wet floors,” reads the lawsuit, filed in October. “MRDCC staff also refused to allow Mr. Rogers to bring his forearm crutches or any other assistive devices into the shower with him, despite the patent risk of harm.”
Rogers was moved to the Dorsey Run Correctional Facility (DRCF) in Jessup shortly after the fall, the lawsuit claims, “which DPSCS represented to be a fully ADA-compliant facility.”
However, the lawsuit claims that the prison gave out faulty wheelchairs and was largely not wheelchair-accessible. Rogers claims “he had significant difficulty with even the most basic activities of daily living because of DRCF’s lack of handicap accessibility.”
After filing grievances — writing in one March report that the prison again lacked handicap-accessible showers in addition to there being only one handicap-accessible toilet in the facility — the lawsuit claims the Administrative Remedy Procedure coordinator at the Jessup prison “expressly told Mr. Rogers to stop filing grievances about the facility’s ADA noncompliance or else he would be punished.”
He also claimed several parts of the facilities, from the handicap-accessible toilet to the tables in the cafeteria, were not of proper height for wheelchair-bound inmates.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, which is defending the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services along with its employees, declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the case.
Last week, more than two dozen corrections officers were charged with running a “criminal enterprise” inside the state’s prisons as the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office alleged prison guards assaulted inmates and retaliated against those who spoke out against their tactics.
None of the officers indicted are defendants listed in this case, but Allen Honick, a Baltimore attorney who is representing Rogers and the five other plaintiffs, said the wardens named in the lawsuit “oversaw those individuals.”
He said the lawsuit and other complaints like it highlight a problem with the state prison’s system: Inmates must navigate a complicated complaint system that is regulated by the very system they allege has aggrieved them.
“We don’t trust any other public institution in this state to self-police, except the correctional system,” Honick said.
Stephen Meehan, an attorney with the Prisoner Rights Information System of Maryland, said that until about five years ago, the state did not duplicate Administrative Remedy Procedure forms, meaning the state corrections system would hold the only record of prison grievances and also oversaw whether they’re acted upon.
Meehan and Honick said they’ve seen cases in which those forms would simply be lost or thrown away. It helped perpetuate a pervasive culture inside the prisons that resulted from a lack of oversight, they said.
“Complaints get buried and complaints never get out of the walls of the prisons,” Honick said.
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The former inmates allege prison employees would discriminate against them for work release programs.
One inmate, John Fishback, said that officials at the Dorsey Run Correctional Facility told him he was not eligible for work release because he took Tramadol, a prescription painkiller to treat moderate to severe pain.
Fishback said in the lawsuit that he stopped taking his prescription for two weeks to be eligible for the work release program and “endured this painful and psychologically disturbing process alone and without assistance” from officials.
Fishback also said that he asked for addiction counseling, “but no such services are available at DRCF; and if they are, they were not made available to Mr. Fishback.”
The lawsuit also alleges the prison system stood in the way of inmates getting proper medical care upon release, saying inmates would have their health insurance plans canceled upon being incarcerated and would receive no assistance on how to obtain health care coverage outside prison.
Honick said the recent lawsuits and criminal charges against corrections officers represent a deeper problem with Maryland’s corrections system.