Based on the meetings, the writers of the 53-page report said the city should expend resources for mitigating issues that may contribute to crime, as well as helping those who are released from jail and return to the community.
“The District should make early investments in fulfilling the basic needs that research shows prevent justice-system involvement, focusing on safe and affordable housing, quality education, physical and mental wellness, and reducing income disparities,” wrote the report’s author, Shelley Broderick, former dean of the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law.
“Demand is high for community investment in housing, mental wellness, youth programming and basic needs, jobs, and alternatives to police, in part because of preference for addressing crime through prevention and alternative interventions,” Broderick wrote.
The 26-member group is made up of local defense attorneys, prosecutors, ministers, college professors, mental-health specialists and representatives of civil rights organizations. They include Avis E. Buchanan, head of the District’s Public Defender Service; D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6); and Kevin Donahue, the District’s deputy mayor of public safety and justice. The report was done with the city’s Council for Court Excellence, a nonprofit that advocates for improvements to the city’s criminal justice system.
Between now and September 2020, the group will present its recommendations to the community, seek feedback and provide details about recommendations the city undertakes as well as cost projections of others.
The report also outlined the little-known history of jails in the city. The city’s first jail opened in 1838 in Judiciary Square, where the National Building Museum now stands, according to the report. The facility was referred to then as “the slave-pen” and was used to house alleged runaway slaves.
The second jail was built in 1875, on the same spot where the existing jail is at 1901 D St. SE. Within 20 years, the jail had reports of being crowded.
The current jail opened in 1976, and crowding was reported there as well.
In recent years, the D.C. jail population has “significantly decreased” and crowding is no longer a problem. But the jail has several health and safety deficiencies, the authors of the report found.
In 2017, 1 in 22 adults, some 22,376 people, were involved in the D.C. correctional system — either released and awaiting trial, on probation, under court supervision, or in jail or prison under D.C. law.
The majority of those incarcerated in the city are African Americans, despite the decreasing percentage of the District’s black population. In the District, black and brown residents make up less than 50 percent of the population but 89 percent of those in jail, the report said.
Last year, an average of 2,059 people were in the custody of the Department of Corrections at the jail on any given day. That number is down from 3,307 in 2010 and compares to a recent low of 1,814 in 2015. A majority of the inmates last year, 76 percent, lived in Wards 5, 7 and 8 at the time of their offense or alleged offense.
The report made numerous suggestions for a new facility, if one is built, including: a dedicated space for family visitation and on-site educational instruction and career, technical and vocational training. It recommended having spaces for individuals to practice their faiths, an area for counseling and a D.C. Public Library branch. A new facility should also have plenty of natural light.
The report also stressed a need for emergency preparedness at a new jail, including backup water, heating and cooling systems, and plans for an evacuation in case of catastrophic events. The report said any secure detention facility should adopt a smaller “pod” model of housing rather than housing large numbers of incarcerated individuals together, prioritizing inmates based on their age or health needs, and providing facilities for women and LGBTQ-identified inmates.