Protesters Call for COVID Decarceration

Unsanitary Conditions at the DC Jail 'Threaten Inmates and Correction Officers'

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On DC Emancipation Day, April 16, activists organized a caravan that started at 12 p.m. at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital, 1100 Alabama Ave. SE. The protesters demanded that city and federal officials immediately release all individuals from city halfway houses and the DC Jail. Organizations behind the event include Life After Release (LAR) a women-based, formerly incarcerated-led organization; BYP100, a national member-based organization of Black 18-35 year old activists; and Black Lives Matter DC.

“As a Native Washingtonian on D.C. Emancipation Day, it is daunting that we are rising up in solidarity and protesting for the freedom of our people in the same historic region of D.C. that holds so many emancipation stories for enslaved people,” said Black Lives Matter DC core organizer Nee Nee Taylor.

The protest follows the DC Government confirmation of four deaths at St. Elizabeth’s, two deaths at Hope Village Halfway House, and one death at the D.C. jail due to COVID-19.

“These deaths have occurred amidst ongoing allegations of unsanitary, crowded conditions, and lack of access to medical care predating the COVID-19 pandemic,” organizers wrote in a press release. “The current pandemic has only heightened the risks of infection and exposed the need to decarcerate all D.C. facilities to protect public health in the city.”  

 

On April 10, there were 36 inmates eligible for a 75-day additional good time credit made possible by emergency legislation passed by DC Council passed on March 17.  Approximately half of those inmates were eligible for immediate release as a result, pending no outstanding matters, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).

Last week, over 100 cars participated in a protest caravan from Hope Village Halfway House to the DC Jail. Participants called for the release of all inmates. Today’s action is intended to again convey these demands to Bowser and Attorney General Karl Racine (D), activists stated.

Staff shortages prevent the DC Jail from keeping inmates six feet apart, Court inspectors told a US judge on April 15. They stated that the facility faced challenges in obtaining and wearing protective equipment. It also lacked supplies necessary to maintain sanitation. The Public Defender Service and the DC branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have filed suit against  the DC Department of Corrections, alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the DC Jail amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

On April 14, DC Correctional Officers’ union filed a class action against DC and the DC Jail. The lawsuit alleged violations of the District’s obligation to provide a safe workplace to employees. It demanded the wholesale disinfection of the DC Jail and issuance of protective equipment for all inmates and officers.

As of April 15, 56 Department of Corrections residents and 18 staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Bowser stated.