In all facilities, juveniles reported that they had been subjected to harassment and violence from other detainees. In some cases, children housed with adults reported that they had been targeted by the adult detainees; many others stated that they felt unsafe being around the adults. Violent incidents among detainees are particularly serious in the Baltimore City Detention Center. Because of the facility's age, detainees are readily able to fashion handmade weapons, known as "shanks." In an effort to prevent juveniles from bringing weapons onto L Section, jail guards thoroughly search children on their way to and from school, usually conducting a strip search when the children return from classes.
Most disturbingly, we heard a number of reports that guards in the Baltimore City Detention Center occasionally permitted juveniles to fight each other. According to these reports, guards permit such fights, called "square dances" because they take place in an open square area on the upper tier, apparently in the belief that they allow youths to settle scores without risking a general mêlée.
Harassment and Violence
Children at all of the jails we visited reported that harassment and violence from both juvenile and adult detainees was a regular occurrence. Joey N., seventeen, described the exceptionally degrading harassment he endured from the adult inmates in the segregation section of the Baltimore City Detention Center:
My first cell had kind of a grill where the door was. Every day, the other inmates, they would throw stuff at me. You know, like shit and stuff. I complained to the C.O.'s, but they didn't do nothing. I can't count the number of times I asked the C.O.'s to move me. I said, "Can you move my cell?" They said no, but they seen the shit. Every day I'm getting shit thrown on me from the other cells. I didn't want to say nothing out loud directly, because the other guys would just keep doing it. I just kept asking to get moved.
In desperation, he resorted to telling the guards that he was suicidal so that he would be moved to a special area for those on suicide watch. "I just wanted to get out of that cell," he said. When he was discharged from the mental health unit and returned to M Section, he requested to be placed in one of the section's isolation cells in an effort to avoid having excrement thrown into his cell:
If you put a sheet on the grill, they tell you to take it down. I asked to go in this cell, they call it the dungeon. Dungeon's the one got a steeldoor. Ain't nothing in it, just a toilet and a bed. I'm the only person in there. I stay there twenty-four hours a day, only come out Tuesday and Friday for a five-minute shower, then get locked back in.198
Most often, we heard accounts of fights between youths. "Always going to be fights," said Darryl S., a seventeen-year-old detainee in Baltimore.199 Asked about the frequency of fights between inmates at the Washington County Detention Center, Ron P., sixteen, replied, "Probably once or twice a week. Nobody ever gets caught. Ain't nobody gonna snitch." He described a fight that had broken out the previous week: "It's going on about ten minutes, and the C.O.s ain't catching them. I guess they just weren't paying attention. The one guy, he could really have gotten hurt if some of us didn't stop it."200 Nestor S., detained in Prince George's County, explained, "I'm from Southeast, see. Say there's another guy from Northeast. We don't get along. We're going to have to meet up sometime."201
In Montgomery County's Youthful Offender Unit, Bruce W., age seventeen, told us that there was a lot of "play fighting" in the cells:
It's like you really fighting but at the end you still friends. You be trying to see which one is harder. Mostly everybody thinks they the baddest one because it's no horseplay outside the cell. The cell is the only place to do it. It happens every night. You can hear it, the sound of fists hitting raw skin. You be slamming up against the wall. You can't make a lot of noise because then you get sent to the holding cell.202
Asked whether the juveniles were injured in these "play fights," he described bruises and scars from hitting up against the walls, bunks, and toilet.203
Jenile L. reported frequent fights in the women's area of the Prince George's County Detention Center, although she noted that the situation had improved at the time of our interview in July 1998. "A lot of the instigators are gone now," she said. "The last fight was a week, maybe a week and a half ago." Asked what the female detainees fought about, she answered, "It's a lot of things. It might bebecause somebody steal something. Or maybe you just don't like somebody. Or it might be over one of those males."204
We were unable to conduct interviews of children in Frederick County. Asked about incidents of detainee violence in the jail, the warden stated that he knew of few instances but readily conceded that detainees were unwilling to report incidents of violence to jail staff. "The inmate code contaminates our ability to know much about inmate-on-inmate violence," he said.205
We heard the largest number of reports of violence and harassment from children held at the Baltimore City Detention Center. When we asked an official about juvenile-on-juvenile violence in the jail, he said, "There's something maybe once, twice a week. It's difficult to assess unless they tell us they have an enemy."206 During our May 1999 visit to the jail, we reviewed all special incident reports involving juveniles that had been filed within the previous nine months. The reports documented a total of thirty-five incidents: twelve assaults or stabbings, eleven shakedowns or threats of violence, two instances in which youth threw urine or feces, four fights between youth, four incidents in which shanks were found, and two fires on the tiers.
With incidents of violence occurring at an average of one per week in a population of about 150 youth, the number and frequency of incidents raise concerns about the safety of youth (and staff-in January 1996, two juvenile detainees reportedly assaulted a security officer, stabbing him in the back of the neck with a metal shank).207 The use of lengthy periods of cell confinement and the paucity of programming and other activities may be major contributing factors to this high level of violence. Put another way, improvements to the physical surroundings and an increase in the amount of education and other programming may significantly reduce these incidents.
Even if improvements along these lines are made, they will not change the fact that the jail as a whole is a very dangerous place. Between mid-1995 and early 1999, the detention center reported an average of eighty-one detainee assaults oninmates involving the use of a weapon per year and some 865 assaults not involving a weapon each year.208
Availability of Weapons
Children at the Baltimore City Detention Center consistently recounted a widespread incidence of weapons among the juveniles on L Section. Joey N., seventeen, told Human Rights Watch that juveniles regularly carried knives during the three months that he was housed on L Section:
Sometimes it's real knives, sometimes they make knives. Sometimes they get kitchen knives. The whole section has knives. People got to keep them for a reason, because they fear for their life. If you feel you're gonna get stabbed up and the C.O.'s not gonna do nothing, you got to take matters into your own hands.209
"Yeah, there's knives," confirmed Maurice B., fifteen. "They make them."210 Jackson F. explained that the juveniles pulled off parts of the vents in the school, made of four temporary structures put together:
If you look at the floors of the cells, you can see where they're smooth from sharpening the metal. You learn the technique of putting water down over the floor first-that way it doesn't leave scraping marks.211
"There were a lot of other places" where inmates could get metal to make knives, he told us. "Some guys took the long screws off of the basketball hoops. Some other folks got into a room in the courtyard where they store the weights." He told us that most often, the juveniles obtained knives from the adult inmates. "Sure, we're supposed to be separated from the adults. But we go to court with adults, we see them in the bullpens, they're in the yards, they're in the infirmary, we see them on the way to school, we see them in the visiting room." Juveniles may arrange for workers to deliver knives or other contraband. "Somebody putsit on a lunchtray. Then you tell the feedup guy, `Make sure sixty-eight gets this tray.'"212
Several youths recounted their first-hand experiences with shanks. "One boy put a knife in me, but it wasn't sharp enough" to draw blood, Sam H. told us, saying that he himself used to have a knife and "was about to use it" on another juvenile before it was confiscated. "I wanted his tennies," he explained, referring to the other inmate's shoes. "He wouldn't cooperate."213 Others readily admitted to owning or using knives. "If you stab someone up, you don't have to worry about anyone messing with you," said Shawn G., repeating later, "If you try to kill someone, put a shank in their neck, you're all right."214
From July 1998 to March 1999, the detention center reported that seventy-two detainee assaults on other detainees involved the use of weapons. In March 1999, the jail confiscated 108 weapons during searches of the facility.215 In a news account published in November 1997, a Baltimore detainee estimated that at least one-third of the detainees in the detention center and the booking center had homemade metal shanks.216 Commissioner Flanagan attributed the prevalence of weapons to the age of the jail, saying, "If we didn't have this dilapidated structure, violence would be a nonissue."217
The "Square Dance"
Human Rights Watch researchers heard several accounts that guards allowed youths to fight with each other. "That's the square dance," Jackson F. explained. "There's a little area on the tier by the phones," about eight feet by eight feet. "The guards will lock everybody in their cells except for two guys" who begin to fight.218
"Someone calls you up," Sam H. told us. "If you have something on your chest, you can do it in front of the police," presumably referring to the correctional officers, "or you can do it somewhere else. I prefer to do it somewhere else." Heclaimed that the officers had recently started giving inmates boxing gloves to use during the square dance, a development which he felt made the fight less satisfying. "You ain't getting what you want off your chest," he commented.219
Jackson F. described a square dance:
You've got your peekers out. There's a lot of yelling from everybody, but if it gets too loud the officers will tell you you need to be quiet or they'll break up the dance. It ends up with busted heads, slashes over your eyes, broken fingers, cut lips, maybe a broken nose. But you don't go to the hospital for the cuts. If you did, there'd have to be a report, and the guards would have to explain why two guys were out in the square while everybody else was locked in.220
Other juveniles in L Section corroborated these accounts. "C.O.'s let you go in the square and get it off your chest," said Darryl S., volunteering that the guards provided boxing gloves. Shawn G., who told us that he had seen square dances twice, said that they began with a shakedown by guards to ensure that the participants had no weapons. In one of the fights, which took place about a month before our interview in May 1999, a juvenile suffered a split lip that could have gotten infected. He stated that the boy should have gotten stitches for the injury but instead received only an ice pack; the swelling took a week to go down. When he was asked why the boy did not receive medical attention, Shawn G. replied that if the guards took the juvenile off the section they would have to explain what happened.221
Asked why the corrections officers would permit two youths to fight, most children speculated that guards preferred to have fighting occur under somewhat controlled conditions instead of risking larger conflicts. "Figure would rather let you fight than have someone getting stabbed up. It's better than C.O.'s don't know what's going on and leads to someone getting stabbed up," said Shawn G.222
198 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimorew City Detention Center, February 9, 1999.
199 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore City Detention Center, May 11, 1999.
200 Human Rights Watch interview, Washington County Detention Center, July 22, 1998.
201 Human Rights Watch interview, P.G. County Correctional Center, July 23, 1998.
202 Human Rights Watch interview, Montgomery County Detention Center, July 30, 1998.
204 Human Rights Watch interview, P.G. County Correctional Center, July 23, 1998.
205 Human Rights Watch interview with Rob Green, warden, Frederick County Detention Center, Frederick, Maryland, July 21, 1998.
206 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore City Detention Center, September 23, 1998.
207 See Peter Hermann, "Stabbing, Gun Prompt City Jail Lockdown; 100 Weapons Are Found in Detention Center Search," The Baltimore Sun, January 20, 1996, p. 16B.
208 See Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, Violence Reduction Program (Baltimore, Maryland: BCDC, 1999), pp. 15-16.
209 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore City Detention Center, February 9, 1999.
210 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore City Detention Center, February 10, 1999.
211 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore, Maryland, April 9, 1999.
213 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore City Detention Center, May 11, 1999.
214 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore City Detention Center, May 11, 1999.
215 See Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, Baltimore City Detention Center, Violence Reduction Program (Baltimore: BCDC, 1999), pp. 13-14.
216 See Ivan Penn, "Lethal Handiwork Behind Prison Walls; Search for Shanks Never Turns up All," The Baltimore Sun, Nov. 17, 1997, p. 1A.
217 Human Rights Watch interview with LaMont Flanagan, commissioner, Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Baltimore, Maryland, May 11, 1999.
218 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore, Maryland, March 9, 1999.
219 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore City Detention Center, May 11, 1999.
220 Human Rights Watch interview, Baltimore, Maryland, March 9, 1999.
221 Human Rights Watch interviews, Baltimore City Detention Center, May 11, 1999.