Dirty wash rags: Suit claims DC failing to protect inmates from coronavirus

A new lawsuit claims the District of Columbia is failing to take basic public health steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its jails, despite five inmates testing positive for the coronavirus.

The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia and D.C.’s Public Defender Service claim jailed residents are being instructed to use their own bar of soap and water to clean their cells to prevent the spread of the virus.

With no access to disposable paper towels, or clean rags: “They are then required to use the same bath towels and washrags to clean and dry their own hands and bodies when they wash their hands or bathe.”

More Coronavirus News

The suit also alleges the D.C. Department of Corrections does not regularly disinfect surfaces in the jail.

“Defendants also have not provided access to hand sanitizer, have denied residents’ requests to use hand sanitizer, and have removed hand sanitizer that was previously available to residents and made it so that only staff could use hand sanitizer,” according to the suit.

In addition, the jail is failing to provide staff and jail residents with enough gloves or masks needed when preparing and serving food, “resulting in many staff and residents passing food and utensils to each other with bare hands.”

Despite public health guidance requiring six feet of distance between people, the jail continues to hold group therapy meetings that don’t allow residents to follow social distancing guidelines.

The lawsuit alleges the conditions violate two constitutional provisions — the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, while the Fifth Amendment protects the right to due process, since unsafe conditions harm defendants who are being housed before standing trial.

In addition, the suit requests the court order the Department of Corrections to exercise its authority under the D.C. Council’s COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 to release inmates convicted of misdemeanors, who number nearly 100.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up