Report Discloses Several Serious Problems at D.C. Detention and Treatment Facilities
Date:  07-08-2015

Facility conditions and policies called “alarming,” “inadequate” and in need of immediate corrective action
On June 11, 2015 the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs published the report “DC Prisoners: Conditions of Confinement in the District of Columbia,” that highlights several areas of grave concern including the poor physical condition of the D.C. Jail, and the need for policies and practices to be reevaluated.

The following is an excerpt of the executive summary of DC Prisoners: Conditions of Confinement in the District of Columbia. A link to the full report follows.

"On average, the daily population of D.C. Department of Corrections (DCDOC) facilities exceeds 2,000 prisoners. About three-quarters of these individuals are detained at the Central Detention Facility, a nearly forty-year-old facility commonly referred to as the “D.C. Jail.” Just under one quarter are detained at the privately-run Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF). The rest are located at one of the District’s three halfway houses.

This report examines the conditions of confinement at the D.C. Jail and the CTF and discusses several recurring and serious problems that require the prompt attention of the DCDOC and District policymakers.

  • The D.C. Jail’s physical condition is alarming. Inspection reports by the D.C. Department of Health (DOH) have identified numerous violations of established correctional and public health standards, as well as structural and mechanical problems that are “serious to extremely serious.” Some of the problems noted in recent inspections appear to be a matter of poor housekeeping and sanitation practices — e.g., an “active infestation of vermin/pests throughout the facility.” Others indicate more fundamental degradation of the D.C. Jail’s physical infrastructure. Inspectors found “openings in the wall” of several cells, "damged concrete in sveral of the cell blocks," "water penetration through the walls," mold growth,and a leaking roof. Inaddition inspectors noted that "most of the plumbing fixtures were in different stages of disrepair."

  • Suicide prevention practices in the D.C. Jail are “in need of immediate corrective action.” An expert report (the “Hayes Report”) arrived at this conclusion in 2013 after being commissioned to examine the D.C. Jail conditions and policies following a ten-month period during which four prisoners in the D.C. Jail committed suicide. The Hayes Report found that the D.C. Jail did not have enough suicide-resistant cells, and that prisoners under observation were subject to “overly restrictive and seemingly punitive” precautionary measures. The Hayes Report also criticized the infrequency of monitoring, which demonstrated “complete unconcern for inmate safety.” In response to the Hayes Report, the DCDOC formed a Suicide Prevention Task Force, which took steps to correct some of the issues noted in the report. However, the Task Force has not published anything in more than one year, so it is difficult to assess whether all of the required remedial measures have been implemented.

  • Facilities for youth are inadequate and programming is insufficient. A report conducted by an outside correctional consulting group (the “Ridley Report”) identified significant problems with the conditions of confinement for youth housed at the CTF and found that boys at the CTF “have needs far greater than the services currently provided.” The Ridley Report highlighted the inadequacies of the juvenile facilities at the CTF, the excessive imposition of segregation and isolation, and the insufficient programming for boys held there. The report also notes that many boys may only visit with family members through video visitation, which can interfere with maintaining critical family bonds. The DCDOC reports that it has “worked diligently to implement the Ridley recommendations,” but we recommend further actions, including reducing the use of isolation and segregation among youth prisoners, further increasing and improving youth programing, and expanding access to in-person visitation for all youths.

  • The District should not renew its contract with CCA, the for-profit corporation running the CTF. Since 1997, the CTF has been operated under contract by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). It appears that the District’s compensation to CCA was 31% higher than CCA’s reported average, at least as of 2014. During that year, CCA reported an operating margin of 29.7%. CCA’s contract is set to expire in 2017 and issues related to CCA operation of prisons around the country since the beginning of the contract indicate that it would not be in the District’s interests to continue to contract out the operation of the CTF.

  • The Secure Residential Treatment Program needs expansion. The Secure Residential Treatment Program, operated out of the CTF by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and the U.S. Parole Commission, offers a helpful alternative to incarceration for those suffering from addiction, but is unavailable to women and to many men due to the location of the facility and its limited size.

  • “Good time credit” policies deny early release based on arbitrary distinctions. District policies regarding the availability of “good time credit" for academic, vocational, and rehabilitation achievement contain arbitrary restrictions with respect to certain offenses. Federal policy governs good time credits for inmates who will be transferred to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.

  • Correctional officers may not have been provided sufficient training. A theme running throughout prior reports is that some of the District’s correctional officers have not been provided modern, effective training.

  • Public records regarding the D.C. Jail and the CTF are difficult to obtain. The process for obtaining public records regarding the District’s correctional system is complex, time-consuming, occasionally befuddling, and sometimes fruitless.

    We conclude by offering seven proposed recommendations to address recurring issues outlined in the report. They would not solve all the issues facing the District’s correctional system, but we believe they would be important and tangible improvements." Read more.