Lawyers for prisoners in Prince George's County jail accused the county today of failing to comply with a year-old federal court agreement to relieve overcrowding and improve security, medical staffing and other services at the troubled 525-inmate complex in Upper Marlboro.
The attorneys filed a 30-page list of complaints in federal court here, contending that the jail continues to be short of guards and medical personnel, and has not corrected shortcomings that range from cold food and inadequate recreation to failing to help drug addicts and segregate inmates who may be "vulnerable to physical or sexual assaults."
While the county has made progress in many areas, the report said, it also has "emphasized form over substance."
The prisoners' lawyers, Baltimore Legal Aid Bureau attorneys Kenneth Montgomery and Stuart Cohen and Washington attorney Richard Seligman, asked for a meeting with county officials and federal court Chief Judge Frank A. Kaufman to determine "what further efforts can be made both for compliance with the existing court agreement and further reducing the inmate population to a constitutionally adequate level."
Kaufman approved an agreement between the prisoners and the county in March 1982, four years after inmate Raymond Edward Lattisaw and others filed a class action lawsuit alleging that conditions in the jail violated their constitutional right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The agreement headed off a civil trial in which the county could have been held liable for millions of dollars in damages to the inmates.
Prince George's County Attorney Robert B. Ostrom, the county's chief legal officer, declined to comment today on specific complaints in the inmates' 30-page report, saying he had not yet received a copy of it.
But, he said: "One problem we have very little control over is the population of the institution."
He said that there has been a recent upsurge in the inmate population, triggered by a statewide crackdown on drunk drivers as well as the "general economic downtown," which has caused more criminal activity.
Today's report said that the county had "managed to technically comply" with an agreement to reduce the population in the adjacent old and new jail facilities in Upper Marlboro to 425 by last November, but that the number since has gone back up to more than 430.
Also, it said, an overflow of nearly 100 more inmates has been placed in two "emergency housing modules" hastily erected last October near the other jail facilities, and these modules are crowded.
More important, the report said, jail officials "have not incrementally increased staff as new facilities have become available, as required by the court agreement ."