May 22, 2020
On April 9, the ACLU National Prison Project, Law Offices of Elizabeth Alexander, and the Public Justice Center (counsel for the Plaintiff Class) filed an emergency motion to mitigate the risk of injury and death from COVID-19 among persons detained at Central Booking. As alleged in an Emergency Supplement filed Wednesday, the Defendants (Lawrence Hogan, et al.) have failed to take effective steps to address the threat of COVID-19 in the six weeks since that motion.
The results of this inaction are alarming, but entirely predictable: nine detainees*, seven staff members, and eight vendor employees at the Jail have tested positive. Given the exponential spread of the virus in jail settings, these numbers can be expected to skyrocket. That is why, on May 20, the Plaintiffs filed a supplement in support of the emergency motion renewing the call on the United States District Court for the District of Maryland to intervene rather than leaving the issue to individual determinations in Baltimore City’s state courts.
The memorandum argues that there is a narrow and rapidly closing window of time to protect the health, safety, and lives of hundreds of persons detained at Central Booking. Every day counts. The Court should grant Plaintiff’s Motion and order the relief sought in that Motion, including the request that Defendants “[i]n consultation with [the Court’s medical monitor], formulate a plan for the release…of detainees from the Jail in order to meaningfully mitigate the risk of transmission, giving priority to those whose age and/or underlying medical conditions put them at especially severe risk from COVID-19.”
Courts across the United States have concluded that, for persons who are at increased vulnerability due to age or pre-existing medical conditions, COVID-19 poses such a grave risk of severe illness or death that release or transfer is the only effective remedy. Courts granting release have weighed public safety and flight risk, but have released detainees with significant criminal histories when the risk to their health was sufficiently grave.
Here in Baltimore on April 13, the Defendants – working with the Court’s independent medical monitor, Dr. Michael Puisis – developed a list of approximately 107 detainees who, because of their age, chronic medical conditions, or both, were at particularly high risk of serious illness or death were they to become infected with COVID-19. Unfortunately, despite an Administrative Order from the Chief Judge of the Maryland Courts issued on April 14, the great majority of those detainees have not been released by the state courts. And, the population at Central Booking has increased by nearly 25% since May 1, with some housing units at 100% capacity or above.
According to Plaintiff’s expert epidemiologist Dr. Chris Beyrer, “[i]n light of these infections, and based on our knowledge of the virus’s propagation in prisons and jails, we can expect COVID-19 to spread rapidly among inmates and staff at [Central Booking], and from there into the community, unless immediate steps are taken to make social distancing possible.”
Read the entire filing:
Professor of Epidemiology, International Health, and Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Director, American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project
Legal Director, Public Justice Center
*As of May 22, there are thirteen detainees with COVID-19.