As Marshals, DC leaders strike deal on DC jail conditions, lawmakers press for answers

After a surprise inspection by the U.S. Marshals Service in October, District lawmakers are hearing from the people who oversee how the D.C. Jail is run.

Councilmembers convened a Public Safety and Justice Committee hearing on Wednesday after learning the Marshals found inhumane, unsanitary conditions inside the jail’s Central Detention Facility — including reports that food and water were being withheld to punish incarcerated residents.

Over the last two days, the Marshals Service had moved more than 140 inmates in the jail’s custody to a facility in Pennsylvania, according to Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Chris Geldart.

During his testimony, Geldart informed councilmembers that D.C. has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Marshals to improve conditions for inmates.

Geldart received tough questions — and tough comments — from council members about conditions in the jail and details of the MOU. The agreement with the Marshals comes a week after the Justice Department announced plans to transfer 400 federal prisoners from among a total population of about 1,500, to Pennsylvania.

“I mean, there’s no transparency. It doesn’t stop our residents from getting transferred,” Council Chair Charles Allen said. “DOC (Department of Corrections) solely gets to decide if it’s [the inmate transfers] extended? What in the world was just signed?”

“So it does say that we can say that we want to extend it,” Gerdart answered. “I think that it is imperative that we work together.”

Under the MOU, both entities “will collaboratively assess conditions at the (Central Detention Facility) and develop a plan to address concerns,” according to a statement provided to The Associated Press. Geldart stated they are assembling a team of DOC personnel and Marshals to be a part of the inspection process at the jail.

In a statement, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she welcomed the attention and resources to “address any deficiencies” at D.C. facilities.

“We all agree: everyone who is in our jail or under our supervised care should be treated humanely and have safe conditions,” Bowser said.

The federal prisoner transfer was supposed to begin this week. It was not immediately clear whether those plans would be affected by Wednesday’s announcement.

As a part of the hearing, D.C.’s Public Defender Service played a number of audio interviews with inmates.

“They have mold in the cell. The cell floods when it rains outside. That’s unacceptable,” one inmate said in a recording.

In May, D.C.s Corrections Information Council, or CIC, reported to the mayor’s office that the jail had flooding conditions, debris in the showers and clogged toilets. However, Allen says he was never informed.

“You found the conditions and then they weren’t remediated. And it feels like it just dropped off,” Allen said. “How do I go say I want to put more resources in the CIC if we can’t count on when you find it?”

During the hearing, Geldart shared that he is the son of an incarcerated person and takes the issues facing the council “very seriously.”

Last month, Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections Quincy Booth and Wanda Patten, the warden of the DC jail, were held in contempt of court for the treatment of a Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendant. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth had summoned the jail officials to court in the case of Christopher Worrell, a member of the Proud Boys who has been charged in the Jan. 6 attack, who was delayed medical care for a broken wrist.

“This will be a months-long process, and public hearings are the first step,”  Allen, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said in a release. “Future hearings will create the opportunity for members of the public and government witnesses to share testimony with the Committee.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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

Sign up