Prince George's County lawsuit claims hundreds of inmates are being jailed illegally

Prince George's County inmates have teamed up with an expert team of attorneys to file a lawsuit in federal court saying hundreds of people are being illegally held in jail while they are waiting for trial. 

The lawsuit blames judges for abandoning their duties and the Prince George's County Department of Corrections for not processing judges orders quickly enough.

"This is a situation where judges are deferring," says Seth Wayne with the Georgetown University Law Center. "They're abdicating their responsibility to this unit within the department of corrections in the knowledge that the department of corrections will often delay making a decision and will often deny release."

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Donell Davis was held for three months after a judge authorized his release. He was locked in a cell for 23 hours during the height of the pandemic and then was eventually found not guilty.

Chris Butler is still detained after a judge ordered his release, according to the complaint. He hasn't seen his 10-year-old daughter in nine months because the jail doesn't allow children to visit.

"What happens is that people suffer immense consequences. Their lives are in some cases forever changed. They miss crucial medical appointments, they lose housing, they lose employment, they lose custody of children," says Wayne.

The rule is that you are innocent until proven guilty which means pretrial detention, being held in jail once you've been arrested, but before you're convicted of a crime, is supposed to be rare.

People are only supposed to be held before trial if they are a flight risk or if they pose a danger to the community.

However, according to the lawsuit, Prince George's County judges authorize an individual for pretrial release or even order release, but then the decision gets kicked to pretrial services within the department of corrections.

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The filing claims that department delays or defers decisions on release for weeks or months.

"There are people who have a pretrial option for release given to them by a judicial officer, but pretrial detention services has determined those individuals may or may not be suitable for release based on their criteria," says State's Attorney Aisha Braveboy.

The lawsuit says that criteria is largely arbitrary and not related to community safety or flight risk.

FOX 5 reached out to the Prince George's County Department of Corrections and the Clerk of the Court in Prince George's County and have not heard anything back.

Read the lawsuit in full below: