Two lawyers from the Maryland attorney general's office told a U.S. appeals court here yesterday that the state cannot meet a court-imposed deadline for relief of prison crowding "without a new facility that simply does not exist."
The state lawyers asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn two lower court rulings Maryland has imposed unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment on more than 2,700 inmates by crowding them into two designed for fewer than 1,800 prisoners.
U.S. District Judges C. Stanley Blair and Alexander Harvye II of Baltimore ordered the state last August to cut population at the two prisons drastically and end the practice of assigning two inmates to a single cell by April of next year.
The state has asked the courts to give it until June 1, 1980, to relieve overcrowding. By then, officials estimate, a 500-bed addition to the Maryland House of Corrections in Jessup will be completed.
Deputy Maryland Attorney General George Nilson and Assisrant Attorney General Stephen B. Caplin implied yesterday that insistence on the court imposed deadline might force the state to free prisoners prematurely or turn the prison system over to U.S. judges, alternatives they viewed as unacceptable.
"We can get 1,100 people out" of the prisons, Caplin said. "We can draw 1,100 names and let them out on the street, but I don't think that would be a good thing to do." Other Maryland officials have said in the past that premature release is the only alternative they will not consider in meeting the court deadline.
Nilson told the seven-member appeals court panel that the deadline, which will require removal of 100 inmated a month from the two prisons between now and April, cannot be met."Going to 100 men a month is not possible without a new institution that simply does not exist," he said.
Nilson added, "We dont't want to have to say to the District judges, 'We can't comply with the order,' and turn the keys to the institutions over to them.'
Nilson said that if the court applied standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court in school desegregation cases, the panel would find that Maryland is making a good faith effort to comply and that there are no promising alternatives to the prison master plan now being used to reduce crowding.
Two Baltimore lawyers representing inmates, Nevett Steele and Richard L. North, urged the court to stand by the deadline laid down by Harvey and Blair.
Steelw acknowledged in answer to questions by judges that prison conditions in Maryland may not be as bad as those in some other states where federal judges also have ordered reductions in crowding. He said, however, that there are similarities between Maryland Mississippi and added, "The Constitution sets a floor" for adequate treatment "below which the states cannot go."
To illustrate the severity of the crowding at the two Maryland prisons, North pointed out to judges that 44-square-foot cells housing two prisoners are about the same size as the entranceway to the paneled courtroom in which the case was being heard.