A lawsuit filed Tuesday by Civil Rights Corps alleges the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections has failed to adopt measures to adequately protect inmates from the coronavirus pandemic.
The 37-page suit filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt states the jail’s director, Mary Lou McDonough, hasn’t led in the effort to provide inmates with enough hygiene products, social distancing measures are carelessly marked and those treated for the virus are sent back to general housing units instead of medical isolation.
The D.C.-based nonprofit civil rights organization seeks the release of all “medically vulnerable people” immediately.
“The cells are unsanitary and covered in feces and blood. It’s really horrifying,” Katie Chamblee-Ryan, senior attorney for Civil Rights Corps, said in an interview Tuesday. “Some of [the inmates] haven’t taken a shower for two weeks. What [the jail has] done is create a public health disaster.”
The suit claims one inmate has observed sick people throughout the jail “coughing, shaking, sweating and struggling to breathe.”
“I feel like everyone in the unit is catching,” the inmate said. “It seems like almost everyone is sick.”
The group, which has been a part of other criminal justice lawsuits nationwide, filed the suit centered on Prince George’s with the highest confirmed cases in Maryland.
As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, the majority-Black jurisdiction has more than 3,700 confirmed cases out of the 14,153 statewide.
The lawsuit claims detainees remain on 23-hour lockdown with one hour outside the cell per day, which includes recreation and making phone calls. However, Chamblee-Ryan said many inmates congregate near the phones and are not standing six feet apart per social distancing guidelines.
Gina Ford, spokeswoman for County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, declined to comment because the county has not been served with the suit and McDonough has not conferred with counsel.
McDonough said at a press conference this month that the jail, which houses fewer than 600 people, has provided adequate supplies and other resources such as masks for both correctional officers and inmates.
Although guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated hand sanitizer also helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, jails and prisons don’t offer it because of the alcohol contents.
But McDonough said all inmates are always in proximity with a sink and soap in every cell daily.
Chamblee-Ryan said that’s not true because inmates receive one bar of soap a week and must buy it.
“Some of them are trading their food trays for it,” she said. “If the prisoners are getting affected, then the staff can, too.”
Maryland Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera ordered Tuesday night for judges to assess the release of at-risk inmates who may have underlying conditions to contract the coronavirus.
On a statewide level, Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Saturday that will allow thousands of detainees to be released early due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The order states: “It is reasonable to expect that certain inmates do not present a threat to public safety and will abide by the restrictions of alternative places of detention, provided there are plans to ensure access to places of residence, social services, and medical care.”
However, those convicted of violent crimes or sexual offenses will not be granted early release.
Also on Tuesday, the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services released data on confirmed coronavirus cases in the state’s 11 facilities.
According to data, 107 officers, 39 inmates and six staff members have contracted the virus as of Sunday.