Litigation seeking emergency relief for crowded, potentially deadly conditions at Hope Village, the largest federal halfway house in the U.S.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has committed to rapidly removing more than 160 prisoners from Hope Village Halfway House in Southeast D.C. by the end of April following a lawsuit challenging the facility’s dangerous coronavirus response and conditions.
A federal class action lawsuit brought on April 3 by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the ACLU of the District of Columbia, and the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP challenged the crowded conditions at Hope Village, which prevented the residents from social distancing and taking other precautions for their health.
At a hearing before Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday, the BOP said many prisoners have been transferred to home confinement in the past two weeks, and committed to moving the majority to home confinement by April 30. An emergency contract for home monitoring devices has also been approved, and will be put into place on April 26. The Court also ordered continued reporting by the BOP and Hope Village on its residents; asked to privately review security footage of the dining area at Hope Village, if available; and ordered a further status conference next week.
The lawsuit alleged that the living and dining conditions at Hope Village prevented effective social distancing, and asked the Court to force the BOP, the District of Columbia, and Hope Village to reduce the population by utilizing home confinement to a level that would allow for safe social distancing and isolation where necessary.
According to the lawsuit, the crowded conditions at Hope Village presented a serious health risk to the returning citizens in the time of pandemic. When the suit was filed, 6-8 men were required to share two-bedroom apartments with only a single bathroom and sink. Bedrooms had 3-4 men sleeping in bunkbeds no more than 3 or 4 feet apart. Large groups of 20-25 men were forced to share communal dining facilities that lacked hand-washing stations. Hope Village does not have on-site medical staff or equipment necessary to conduct temperature screens for staff, residents, and visitors.
“Men confined to Hope Village are the lowest-security prisoners,” says Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Prior to March 20, they went into the community on a daily basis to work, seek medical care, and visit family. All are within weeks or months of release, and most have a family and home to go to. There is no reason that this vulnerable population should be forced to live in dangerous conditions.”
Although many of these men were eligible for home confinement, few had been approved due to bureaucratic processes, placing the lives of residents, staff, and community members at risk. Since the filing of this lawsuit, the BOP has committed to sending the majority of these men home in the next two weeks.
“We commend the BOP for following the mayor’s orders regarding social distancing, and we will continue to monitor the situation,” said Kevin Metz, partner at Latham & Watkins LLP. “In the midst of this health crisis, officials must follow federal and local guidelines to ensure that all citizens, regardless of circumstance, are protected.”
The risk to prisoners is high – 38 percent of federal prisoners have a chronic illness – and staff are at risk as well. The potential for rampant spread within the corrections facility that will overwhelm local health care resources is very real.
“While we are gratified BOP has finally acted, we are deeply concerned that those who cannot be placed in home confinement will be sent out of state,” said Monica Hopkins, Executive Director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia. “These are D.C. residents who belong in D.C. We urge Mayor Bowser and her Office of Returning Citizen Affairs to increase funding and support for re-entry services, including providing access to health care as the pandemic continues, and working with public housing management providers, hotels, and private landlords to secure safe and free housing and ensure individuals can successfully transition back into our community.”
The case, Williams v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, was filed on April 2, 2020 in federal court against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and its Assistant Director for Correctional Programs, Michael Carvajal; the District of Columbia and Department of Corrections Director Quincy Booth; and Hope Village, Inc. You can view a copy of the complaint here.
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ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: Founded in 1968, The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs works to create legal, economic and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While we fight discrimination against all people, we recognize the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combatting and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org or call 202.319.1000. Follow us on Twitter at @WashLaw4CR.
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