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Lack of Outdoor Recreation for D.C. Jail Prisoners “Dehumanizing”

by Kevin W. Bliss

A round 60 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. on Valentine’s Day 2019. The protest centered around two D.C. jails – the Central Treatment Facility (CTF) and Central Detention Facility (CDF). Family members and advocates for prisoners held at those facilities were protesting the fact that since early 2018, prisoners at CTF and CDF had been denied access to outside recreation.

D.C. jail policies and procedures called for recreational activities to ensure prisoners’ well-being, including their mental health. Although the policies did not specify how much time outside prisoners should be afforded, they did say the only reason for canceling outside recreation was “when hazardous weather or other life threatening environmental conditions exist.” Jail officials blamed the continual denial of outdoor recreation on “an unseasonably wet fall and winter.”

Lashonia Thompson-El, who was incarcerated for 18 years before starting an advocacy group called The WIRE (Women Involved in Re-entry Efforts) following her release, said just having the freedom to choose whether to go to recreation or not contributed to prisoners’ mental health and was important. 

“We need them to be in optimal health in mind, body, and spirit [when they get out],” she said. 

If prisoners are denied the opportunity to have outside recreation, that adds to the trauma of incarceration. She noted that other countries believe incarceration itself is the punishment, and treat prisoners like human beings.

Laura de las Casas, liaison for the D.C. Corrections Information Council, said outdoor recreation for prisoners at CTF was a major concern “because most of the individuals there are doing intense programming and college-level courses. They’re working very hard and they’re looking for sources of relief.”

CTF officials argued that prisoners receive daily recreation in the facility’s gym where they have access to sports and workout equipment. Prisoners responded that the building was full of mold, they found it hard to breathe and wanted fresh air.
Complaints were submitted to the D.C. Council, and corrections officials were called to an oversight hearing to explain their decision to limit outside recreation. 

“Keeping detained individuals from access to fresh air and natural light is dehumanizing,” stated Councilmember Charles Allen.

Prisoners at CTF and CDF were finally allowed to have recreation outdoors starting on February 13, 2019 – indicating the importance of having outside support when pushing for criminal justice reforms. 



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