With inmates sleeping on cement floors – packed 25 to 35 in holding cells meant for five or 10, the sick shoulder-to-shoulder with violent thugs, a federal class-action suit filed yesterday alleges that Philadelphia is packing inmates into overcrowded jails in violation of the Constitution, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The suit contends that the jammed conditions have put defendants in holding cells in police districts and at police headquarters for days without medical care, access to phones, family or legal counsel. The police lockups are “if anything, even more degrading, dangerous and inadequate” than city prisons, the suit says.
Penn law professor David Rudovsky is asking for damages on behalf of inmates and a judgment that the city’s practices are unconstitutional and must be stopped immediately. City Solicitor Romulo Diaz Jr. said the city was working on a plan to reduce prison population, which stood at 8,799 on Sunday. He called the lawsuit an “opportunity” to work with the criminal-justice community and the plaintiffs on a “comprehensive solution.” William DiMascio of the Pennsylvania Prison Society said the city prisons are in “complete disarray” and he urged all the players in the criminal-justice system to meet in an “emergency summit.” For the city, the lawsuit is a rematch with an attorney who tied city lawyers in knots for 30 years with a state lawsuit on prison living conditions filed in 1971 and concluded in 2001 after millions of dollars in fines had been paid by the city.