The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mayor appoints new acting director of D.C. Department of Corrections amid public scrutiny of jail conditions

Tom Faust, who served as director from 2011 to 2016, will replace Quincy Booth

Inmates at the D.C. jail in 2014. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) named a new acting director of the city’s Department of Corrections on Friday, changing up leadership at the jail amid a period of intense public scrutiny.

Tom Faust, who served as DOC director from 2011 to 2016, will replace Director Quincy Booth, who has led the department since Faust’s departure.

The announcement comes during a historically fraught time for DOC leadership, which has included a federal judge finding the department in contempt over its treatment of a defendant charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, a surprise U.S. Marshals Service inspection that found unlivable conditions at the facility, and the city attorney general’s office withdrawing its support in the ongoing battle over jail conditions. And the D.C. jail is in the throes of its largest coronavirus outbreak.

D.C. attorney general stops representing corrections officials in ongoing battle over jail conditions

“Director Faust has extensive experience in building partnerships through effectively collaborating with a wide variety of community-based organizations, constituent groups, and local and federal partner agencies,” a statement from Bowser’s office said.

Faust had announced his retirement from the District in 2016. The city said he recently served as chief of staff for the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

Faust will take the helm Jan. 24. From that point, Booth “will continue to lead the Department and will serve in an advisory role,” the statement said. The mayor’s office declined to expand on what that role will be.

While Booth came up through his work on criminal justice policy, Faust rose through the ranks over decades managing jails and related programs. Born in Arlington, Faust worked for the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office for 24 years, including three terms as sheriff. As director of the District’s DOC, he implemented inmate education and jobs programs, among other services, according to the city.

Tammy Seltzer, the director of the DC Jail and Prison Advocacy Project, worked with Faust while he led the DOC. She characterized one of his greatest strengths as his willingness to engage with members of the community, including people who are incarcerated or have spent time in jail. While they had disagreements, including one over hiring a private health-care company, Seltzer said Faust played an active role in making sure that a Medicaid initiative she spearheaded ran smoothly.

“Director Faust has a lot more experience than Director Booth had, and I think that he will bring that experience to the table,” she said. “But again, the most difficult job any corrections director has is trying to bring reform and change to staff.”

City officials dispute reports of ‘egregious’ conditions at D.C. jail

At the surprise October inspection, the U.S. marshals found corrections staffers were denying food and water to people in jail as a form of punishment. That finding, in addition to others such as unsanitary living conditions at the jail, led the marshals to decide to move 400 defendants charged with federal crimes to a penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa. By early December, they had transferred approximately 200 people.

Booth denied that staffers were withholding food and water. He was also on what was described as “personal leave” during a D.C. Council hearing to discuss the marshals’ findings, frustrating council members.

There were also complaints at the D.C. jail during Faust’s tenure. In 2015, for example, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs published a report describing “alarming conditions” within the jail.

“That he was the director a time when the jail was a bit of a nightmare is not a good sign, to be entirely honest,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. “But there has never been a period since that jail was built in 1976 that it has been well run.”

D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs the council’s judiciary committee with oversight of the DOC, said he believes Faust could act as a “stabilizing person” during a moment of crisis at the jail. But he is more focused on what the city will do long-term to address the need for a new facility — and overhaul its criminal justice system.

“We have to have a new facility. We have to rethink what we expect that facility to be and how it is to serve,” he said. “That is what I’m looking for and what I’m expecting in anyone who is going to be tapped for this.”

Smith similarly emphasized the importance of the next DOC director and called on the city to involve the community in deciding who should fill that role.

“That person is going to play a very significant role in determining what the future of the jail and incarceration really looks like in the District of Columbia,” he said.