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Federal judge blasts Philly jails as unconstitutional


PHILADELPHIA -- A federal judge ordered city jails to go back under court monitoring, blasting conditions as overcrowded and squalid and saying inmates lack access to clean cells and adequate medical attention.

U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick issued a scathing ruling Thursday, calling holding facilities overflowing and lockups at police stations firetraps that violate detainees' constitutional rights.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of 11 inmates with the help of David Rudovsky, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who filed a similar suit 35 years ago. That case led to court oversight of the jails from 1971 to 2001.

Surrick toured the system, which holds roughly 8,800 inmates.

While waiting to get assigned to regular cells, detainees at one jail ''were forced to sleep overlapping one another and on every inch of concrete floor,'' the judge wrote. ''Prisoners slept with their heads next to the toilet.''

Inmates would ''spend three, four, five, or six days ... without bedding provisions, sleeping, if they could, on metal benches or directly on the concrete floor,'' Surrick wrote.

A message left Friday for city Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. was not immediately returned. Diaz has said the city was aware of problems and trying to fix them but needed more money to hire staff and buy equipment, and come up with alternative solutions such as home-monitoring devices for low-level offenders.

The city spends $262 million a year on its jail system, up from $93 million in 1987 and $195 million in 2001.

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