Inmates seek release from DC Jail after damning inspection

Defense attorneys have filed for their clients’ release from the D.C. Jail after a U.S. Marshals Service inspection found conditions inside the jail may infringe on inmates’ civil rights.

The Public Defender Service, whose attorneys filed the motions, did not specify how many inmates’ cases it wants reconsidered.

The marshals service has announced that it’ll move 400 inmates to a federal facility in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, because of the findings from the surprise inspection.

The service sent those findings to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and said it will only transfer inmates in the Central Detention Facility, not from the Central Treatment Facility.

“CTF houses approximately 120 detainees in the custody of the USMS, including all the defendants in pre-trial custody related to alleged offenses stemming from events that took place on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, as well as other federal detainees,” it said in a release.

The marshals said the inspection was prompted by D.C. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth’s finding that jail officials “abused” the rights of a Jan. 6 defendant by allegedly delaying his medical care.

In a letter to the D.C. Department of Corrections, the team of deputy U.S. marshals found “standing human sewage” in the toilets of inmates’ cells and that some cells had water “shut off for days.”

The report comes a year after the Public Defenders Service filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, saying unsanitary and unsafe conditions inside the jail put inmates at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. A source inside PDS said 90 percent of the marshals’ findings were about staff actions at the jail, not about the building itself or the state of repairs.

“This sudden epiphany by stakeholders only after white people complained of conditions at the D.C. Jail is a clear example of the historic and systemic racism that plagues the carceral system,” PDS said in a statement.

Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he plans to call an oversight hearing on the findings and speak with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s team on plans to address the conditions in the jail. He expressed concern over the marshals’ plan to move inmates to another state.

“This decision will have very serious implications for D.C. Jail residents, the Department of Corrections, and the District. Unequivocally, those held in our care and custody must be treated humanely and in accordance with correctional standards, and the Executive needs to act with urgency and full transparency,” Allen said in a statement.

Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White toured the D.C. Jail on Wednesday after the report’s release, aiming to ensure that each inmate has access to counsel, family, and visitors. “I also want to know what plans are in place to make sure they each remain safe in light of the current
COVID-19 pandemic,” White said in a release.

The U.S. Marshals Service did not specify when it plans to move inmates but said it is working with the Bureau of Prisons to coordinate the transfer.

Art Spitzer, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told WTOP that given the conditions the marshals found in its surprise inspection, emergency action is needed.

“It may be that some of the other people should also be moved to a federal facility or someplace else. I think that the prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the judges in federal court and Superior Court should take a hard look, again, at people who they’ve either sentenced to serve short sentences in jail or who are being confined pretrial,” Spitzer said.

Most inmates are awaiting a delayed hearing or trial while living in the now-documented conditions, which Spitzer said should be reflected in their sentence if they are convicted.

“I think the idea that there should be extra credit for time served in abominable conditions is a creative and worthwhile idea, and something that prosecutors can take into account when they’re recommending sentencing, and the judges certainly could take into account when they’re handing down sentences,” Spitzer said.

Megan Cloherty

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

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