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PJC and Office of Public Defender Seek Release of Prisoners Held Longer Than 24 Hours With Hearing

May 10, 2005: The PJC has engaged in legal action involving illegal actions of  Central Booking  at the Baltimore City jail.  At issue this time is the jail's keeping prisoners confined for more than 24 hours from arrest to being taken before a judicial officer, as required by state law, and the failure to provide medical assessment to prisoners.  Some individuals are there for relatively minor charges and end up being held for much longer periods of time than the 24 hour max.

The Office of the Public Defender (OPD) filed habeas corpus motions to release prisoners who had been held in Central Booking for more than 24 hours with seeing a judicial officer. On April 21st, Judge Glynn granted the motion and released 5 persons. The next day, the judge released another 7 prisoners. This clearly is a problem that is larger than just the few named individuals.  The OPD requested the court to certify a class of all prisoners at Central Booking who had been held longer than 24 hours.  The OPD requested the PJC to assist them because of the PJC's experience with class action lawsuits and familiarity with problems at the jail.

On Friday, April 22nd, PJC Attorneys Sally Dworak-Fisher and Wendy Hess filed a motion for leave to participate as amicus. The PJC's amicus addresses issues concerning class certification and the need for relief.  Specifically, it provides information about the law that will permit the court to order relief for all persons affected by this illegal state practice even though the claims of the specifically named persons may have been individually resolved. In addition, the amicus provides the circuit court with information about the negative health consequences of having an overcrowded facility where people are not given access to health services.  The OPD informed the court that persons who have not yet seen a judicial officer are not given medical treatment with the exception of emergency care.  The PJC brief pointed out that interruptions in medication for diseases such as HIV and diabetes, even for a few days, can have severe consequences for the patients and can also result in a greater public health problem.

On April 26th, the court granted the motion to certify the class of all prisoners who were being illegally held longer than 24 hours, an initial victory for the PJC and the OPD, and the beginning of a resolution to this problem.

On May 10, 2005, the Office of Public Defender and state officials for the jail announced that they had reached an agreement that would provide for automatic release of any inmate held more than 24 hours without a hearing.  

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