Department of Corrections Must Take Immediate Steps to Protect Incarcerated People’s Lives
WASHINGTON -- COVID-19 cases at the D.C. Jail are surging to staggering amounts among both residents and D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) staff. Currently, out of nearly 1,300 D.C. Jail residents, more than 600 have tested positive for COVID-19. More than 900 residents are in quarantine and 70 are in isolation, according to data from D.C. health.
Nassim Moshiree, Policy Director at the ACLU-DC, issued the following statement:
“The alarming surge in COVID cases at the D.C. Jail presents an immediate public health crisis for D.C. that also serves as a mirror into the broader inhumane conditions at the facility. This crisis was entirely preventable, and negligence by the Department of Corrections has jeopardized the health of hundreds of D.C. Jail residents. Overall, DOC has failed to ensure that its staff implements measures to prevent the spread of the virus and has put the lives of the incarcerated people in their care at risk.
“There are steps the new DOC director, Tom Faust, can take immediately to improve the situation. First, DOC needs to limit the number of people in the facility, starting with releasing all people who are serving time for only misdemeanor sentences, awaiting trial on misdemeanors, confined for non-criminal parole violations, nearing the end of their sentence, or who can otherwise be brought home under some form of community supervision.
“As the pandemic continues, DOC should also enlist outside experts to develop a long-term process for releasing incarcerated people back into the community to the greatest extent possible in order to prevent future outbreaks.
“We hope Director Faust can learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and ensure that incarcerated people receive constitutionally adequate conditions and the facility takes serious steps to prevent the spread of COVD-19. At the same time, it’s crucial for the D.C. Council to hold DOC accountable for its unlawful actions -- starting by empowering an independent oversight body with unrestricted access to the jail to regularly report to the Council and the public on conditions and treatment at the jail.
“While it’s not possible to entirely prevent the spread of the virus, DOC must act responsibly to protect its residents and staff. At the moment, it is utterly failing to do so and the time for change is now.”