A city auditor outlined poor conditions at the D.C. jail in a report last week while saying the District is in need of a new correctional facility.
The report from the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor identified several areas needing improvement, criticizing the jail and city leaders for the facility’s crumbling state and lack of funding to correct the problems. The audit was completed to help the Department of Corrections “with any pending construction of a new correctional facility by identifying areas for improvement,” it stated.
The city’s Department of Health has cited the jail for “repeated and uncorrected violations of industry standards related to environmental conditions,” the audit said, “including room temperatures, sanitary conditions, pests, broken fixtures and inadequate lighting, among other issues.”
The report also faulted Aramark, which provides food service at the jail and the neighboring Correctional Treatment Facility — which houses female inmates and the jail’s medical services — finding “repeated violations of District regulations related to public health.” Aramark did not return a request for comment.
“The D.C. Jail is an aging and deteriorating 40-year-old facility that must be operational 24 hours per day, 7 days per week,” the report said. “The persistence and seriousness of facility citations clearly point to the need for a new jail.”
The jail, built in 1976, has long been a target for policymakers and prisoner advocates. It was placed under a court-ordered receivership from 1995 to 2000 and saw a rash of suicides after the alleged mistreatment of mentally ill inmates in 2013.
The average daily population as of June 2018 was 1,346, the report said. Ninety-four percent of its inmates are men, and 87 percent are black, according to the report.
The report also said the city has not done enough to provide funding to fix the jail. Since 2014, the Department of Corrections has requested about $330 million for its capital budget, according to the report, but received just $31 million.
Plans for a new jail have been discussed since at least 2010, when the Department of Corrections requested $420 million for a new facility, the report said. In 2018, city leaders said that plan was “placed on pause,” according to the report.
Quincy Booth, director of the city’s Department of Corrections, said in a statement it holds accreditation by top national agencies that require the jail to meet safety and housing standards for inmates and staff. He touted the jail’s “robust portfolio” of programming for inmates.
“While the jail is an aged facility that is heavily used, the Bowser administration has ensured the necessary resources to support ongoing maintenance and improvements to the facility,” Booth said.
In a response to the audit included within the report, the Department of Corrections said the auditor “does not acknowledge or recognize . . . the progress the D.C. government has made.”
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, said the audit “completely confirms why we need a new corrections facility.”
Allen said the current jail is home to a number of innovative programs for offenders, including mentorship and library programs, but such initiatives are tough to carry out in a building designed under a more punitive, less rehabilitative model of corrections.
“We’ve got a facility that was built a half-century ago. It is not serving our city and is not serving our residents who are going to be detained there,” Allen said. He added: “The jail was built at a time when our thinking was simply, ‘How do we store people in little cages and let them out when their time is done?’”
Allen said $150,000 was set aside last year toward a commission — still in the process of being formed — that would issue recommendations for a new jail.
“I hope that it helps light the fire and brings some urgency,” he said of the audit.
Booth also said corrections officials hired a nonprofit to study “building a modern rehabilitative facility,” saying the outcome should be known later this year.
Phil Fornaci, a prisoners’ rights advocate and senior counsel for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, said the report was “not shocking” and might even prove a distraction.
“This discussion is always punted to, ‘Well, we better build a new jail,’ ” he said. “Which may be a need, but it’s something that’s not going to happen for several years. In the interim, the conditions need to improve.”
Misty Thomas, executive director of the Council for Court Excellence, a nonprofit that advocates for improvements to the city’s criminal-justice system, said in a statement the audit’s findings present city leaders with a choice on how to move forward.
“Continue spending millions of dollars on Band-Aids, trying to make our crumbling, 42-year-old jail into a minimally livable space, or decide to invest our resources in a new, modern facility that can enhance public health, support rehabilitation, and ensure public safety,” she said.