U.S. Justice Department tours Baltimore jail on Wednesday

Department of Justice officials toured the Baltimore City Detention Center on Wednesday amid complaints about conditions for juveniles held at the facility, officials confirmed.

Agency officials would not comment on what they observed during the tour. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said in a statement that the visit was "urgently needed and if any unsafe or unsecure conditions are found, they must be immediately remedied."

Cummings wrote to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division this month, after The Baltimore Sun highlighted the increasing concerns of attorneys and youth advocates about conditions for juveniles who are being held at the jail on adult charges.

State officials have said the claims are unfounded or exaggerated.

Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, did not know what monitors found on the tour but said they have recognized improvements in the system in the past. He noted that a specific section on "protection from harm" was deleted from the state's oversight agreement with the government.

Federal monitors "believe those kids are secure and safe. All these other issues are related to process," Binetti said, pointing to remaining areas within the oversight agreement covering grievances, discipline, out-of-cell time, and staffing of juvenile units.

DOJ monitors last visited the jail in November 2010 and determined around that time that the state had not achieved "substantial compliance" with a 2007 agreement. Officials said that the agency had "no authority" to review conditions as they worked on an extension that was ratified this past April.

During that time, the jail underwent a major shift in how it detains juveniles, from youths being held two to a cell to a dorm-style arrangement that puts up to 32 youths in a room. Justice Department officials have not responded to questions about whether they were aware of the change.

At several court hearings in recent weeks, attorneys representing juveniles held at the facility have successfully petitioned a city judge to have them moved to the Juvenile Justice Center. They said youths were being regularly attacked by other detainees and did not have adequate supervision or medical care.

The state corrections agency wants to build a new facility for youths detained as adults, saying it would vastly improve the agency's ability to provide adequate services. Funds for the project were frozen last year, amid complaints from youth advocates that the money should be spent on alternatives to detention and that the state should focus on broader juvenile justice reform.

One of the chief complaints from detainees' attorneys was that the extreme heat and lack of air conditioning in the building where they were being held was exacerbating medical problems. The juvenile detainees within the detention center complex were then moved into a different building that has air conditioning.

Binetti said that while the state maintains it has been in compliance, "the department believes the recent movement of the juvenile population to the Wyatt Building will better meet their needs and help ensure that the Department is in compliance with the remaining issues."

Cummings said the state "needs to come into full compliance with any outstanding requirements and DOJ needs to ensure that compliance is achieved."

Binetti said the state believes it is positioned to do that.

"Overall, as evidence by the progress made since the original agreement was signed, the department fully expects to be at minimum substantially compliant with all of the provisions" in the extension agreement, which is due to expire in April 2014, Binetti said.


  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad