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Dying in Jail, With or Without Charges

April 6, 2007: The following case recently handled by PJC Legal Assistant Alexandra Taylor illustrates one aspect of how disposable people in jail have become:

This week PJC staff met with a client at the jail to follow up on a prior PJC visit. The woman has throat cancer and reported that she was not receiving adequate nutrition (only one can of Ensure a day), was not receiving adequate pain management, and complained that her feeding tube openings were not clean. Doctors have indicated that this woman is in the end stages of cancer. After the prior visit, we asked the Attorney General to communicate with the jail and to resolve these complaints. At the visit this week, the woman was unable to communicate and passed out. PJC staff notified correctional officers and requested that the woman be given medical attention. The client was eventually taken to the hospital later that day.

The PJC contacted the client's public defender to inquire about ways that this woman's health needs can be better attended to. The public defender's office did a heroic job of seeking to have this woman's minor criminal charge dismissed. On their first effort, the state's attorney refused, indicating that he'd rather wait and see what happens in the interim; if the woman dies in jail then the case is resolved. The public defender persevered and was able to get the charge dismissed. The public defender learned that the client also had an old detainer from a 2001 charge in Baltimore County. They also worked to get that charge dismissed.

The PJC called the hospital to make sure that social workers were aware of the client's status and could look into arranging end of life care. A social worker assured her they would look into it. When PJC called the next morning, she discovered that Baltimore City took this woman back to detention!! The client sat in Central Booking overnight and no one was aware that she was there (even when we called the jail to determine her whereabouts). Only when the public defender went down to the booking floor did he discover his client, who had no charges pending, was being detained. Baltimore County showed up to take this woman to Baltimore County on their detainer, despite the fact that the charge was dismissed and the public defender explained to them that there was no pending charge! The client was then taken to Cockeysville and detained in the police station until Baltimore County public defenders were able to resolve the situation.

After this exhausting experience, the client is now finally free to spend her last several weeks outside of the confines of a detention center.

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