Court Finds DOC Was Aware of, But Disregarded, Risk of Illness Spreading Inside Jail


WASHINGTON – A federal court judge today ordered the D.C. Department of Corrections to immediately improve conditions inside the D.C. Jail to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to inmates and guards alike. The court issued its order this morning in Banks v. Booth, the class-action lawsuit brought by the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the ACLU of the District of Columbia.

“This is a significant victory for the more than 1,400 human beings still incarcerated by the District at the D.C. Jail,” said Steven Marcus, Staff Attorney, Special Litigation Division, Public Defender Service. “The independent experts’ report confirmed many of our clients’ and jail staff members’ most damning allegations about conditions inside the Jail, and today’s decision orders the Department of Corrections to remedy those conditions right away.”

The court ordered, among other things:

  • Jail-wide improvements in medical treatment, including expedited response to sick call requests;
  • Enforcement of social distancing, and better education and training for both prisoners and guards about COVID-19 precautions;
  • Consistent provision of proper cleaning supplies;
  • Improvement of conditions in isolation units, including ensuring access to daily showers, clean clothes and linens, and access to telephones for personal and legal calls, so that prisoners are not discouraged from reporting COVID-19 symptoms by the prospect of being isolated in punitive conditions;
  • Increased access to attorneys, including “access to confidential, unmonitored legal calls of a duration sufficient to discuss legal matters”; and
  • Improvements to visitor screening, including staff training on the use of infrared thermometers.

“Plaintiffs have provided evidence that Defendants are aware of the risk that COVID-19 poses to Plaintiffs’ health and have disregarded those risks by failing to take comprehensive, timely, and proper steps to stem the spread of the virus,” wrote Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in her opinion accompanying the order. The court specifically rejected the District’s argument that people incarcerated in the jail faced no greater risk than people living in the broader community.

“The Court rightly found, based on evidence from prisoners, staff, and the report of two independent experts, that DOC has shown deliberate indifference to prisoners’ health and safety,” said Scott Michelman, Legal Director, ACLU-DC. “Further, the Court rightly noted that having policies on paper is of no use absent actual implementation of the appropriate precautionary measures to address a pandemic. In light of the grave risks to the people incarcerated at the jail, we expect immediate compliance with the Court’s order, and we will continue to closely monitor conditions our clients face inside the facility.”

The report of the independent experts, Grace Lopes and Mark Jordan, ordered by the court on April 9, was summarized orally at a telephone hearing on April 15, and the final written version was provided to the court yesterday. The court’s order concludes with the admonition that “the Court expects Defendants to address those specific deficiencies set out in the final report, which support the recommendations, and to rectify those deficiencies.”

The court wrote that it would not “at this time” take the further step, urged by plaintiffs, of appointing an expert to advise the court on reducing the population at the Jail.

Today’s order can be found here:

The independent experts’ report can be found here:

More information about this case, Banks v. Booth, can be found here: