Lawyers for the residents of Hope Village, mostly prisoners who are finishing up their prison terms and transitioning back to civilian life, had hoped U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras would order large-scale releases of the all-male population to protect prisoners, staff and surrounding residents from the novel coronavirus. In addition to the federal prisoners, 20 of the residents are pretrial detainees from D.C. Superior Court, one of whom was set to be released Tuesday.
One Hope Village resident died there Sunday, but a lawyer for the halfway house said it was unclear whether the man had contracted the coronavirus that causes the covid-19 disease, which can be fatal.
Attorney Kristen E. Ittig told Contreras the man had previously gone to the hospital with symptoms of the virus but had tested negative. He returned to Hope Village, completed two weeks in quarantine and suddenly died, Ittig said. The facility is waiting for reports from the medical examiner and police on the man’s death.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons said Monday that two deaths over the weekend were not related to the virus.
Kevin H. Metz, a lawyer for the prisoners, said in a hearing conducted via phone conference that the men at Hope Village stay in apartments of six to eight residents, with three or four men in each bedroom, and all sharing one bathroom. A communal dining room serves 20 to 25 men at a time. Contreras asked whether Hope Village could space out the dining times, and Ittig said she would relay that request.
The residents also do all the cleaning of rooms and common areas, Metz said, and there is no regular temperature testing to see whether anyone is becoming symptomatic.
“This is an extremely dangerous situation,” Metz said, “and not one which can be cured by a bucket of Purell, which they don’t have.”
Hope Village contracts with both the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the District’s Department of Corrections to hold prisoners. Pamela Disney, a lawyer for the D.C. attorney general, said the city had 20 prisoners at Hope Village. One was to be released Tuesday after serving a misdemeanor sentence, and the other 19 are being detained pretrial and need release orders from the judges in their cases.
Johnny H. Walker III, an assistant U.S. attorney representing the federal prisons, told the judge, “The BOP wants to do essentially what the plaintiffs are asking us to do,” and has been moving quickly to assess prisoners for release from halfway houses as well as prisons. The government, he said, hoped to approve 13 for release Tuesday and 30 to 40 in the next week.
Of the 196 Hope Village residents, 126 were eligible for release, Walker said. But of those 126, “a majority would be homeless if released from the facility right now,” Walker said. In addition, a key requirement of home confinement is a home telephone, and in some cases people are seeking release to houses without phones. Walker said federal officials were trying to devise workarounds, such as doing FaceTime calls where the prisoner can show where they are or having parole officials drive past a person’s residence while they’re there.
Contreras expressed reluctance to order sweeping releases. Ittig said some who have been released have already been difficult to locate. The judge said he once released someone from Hope Village “who ended up killing someone.” He denied the request for a temporary restraining order but ordered Hope Village to supply a full roster of its residents and their individual health and legal situations by Monday. The judge also ordered the Bureau of Prisons to supply a daily list of those released to home confinement.
A status hearing in the case is set for April 14.