U.S. Marshals Service Inspectors Find D.C. Central Jail Not Meeting Federal Detention Standards
by Casey J. Bastian
For decades, prisoners held by the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) have complained of inhumane conditions and mistreatment. Criticism of the 45-year-old main jail facility has also come from lawyers and judges, as well as detainees and their visitors. Yet it took a “flurry of complaints” from those arrested after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, to bring attention to the deplorable conditions at the Central Detention Facility (CDF) and the Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF).
The two jails house local and federal defendants and prisoners from the D.C. area, the vast majority of whom are Black or brown. Most Capitol rioters, by contrast—of whom there were about 40 held at the jail in December 2021—are white. After they complained, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) conducted an “unannounced inspection” of the facilities from October 18 to 23, 2021.
Just before the inspection, Judge Royce Lamberth of the federal court for the District of D.C. found DOC Director Quincy Booth and CDF Warden Wanda Patten in contempt for failing to provide adequate medical care to Christopher Worrell, an accused January 6 rioter kept waiting months for surgery to repair a broken wrist because jail officials failed to turn over medical records. Lamberth also ordered prosecutors to refer the matter to the Civil Rights Division of the federal Department of Justice (DOJ).
In a statement issued after its inspection, USMS said it found “that conditions there do not meet the minimum standards of confinement as prescribed by the Federal Performance-Based Detention Standards.”
Except in CTF, where most of the alleged January 6 insurrectionists are housed, and where USMS found conditions were “largely appropriate and consistent with federal prisoner detention standards.”
Instead, it was at CDF where an eight-member team of USMS deputies found “large amounts of standing human sewage ... in the toilets of multiple occupied cells,” in which water also “had been shut off for days.”
The USMS report, authored by acting Marshal for Lamberth’s court, Lamar J. Ruffin, noted that “the smell of urine and feces was overpowering in many locations.” In addition, there was “pervasive” evidence of drug usage, and the facility had a strong “odor of marijuana.” Some detainees “had observable injuries with no corresponding medical or incident reports,” Ruffin continued, with water and food apparently “withheld from detainees for punitive reasons.”
But that’s not all.
“[J]ail entrance procedures were inconsistent and sloppy,” the report noted, and staff was “observed not following COVID-19 mitigation protocols,” while food-handling was “substandard” and “hot meals were observed served cold and congealed.”
Even more troubling, USMS observed jail staff “antagonizing detainees” and directing them to “stop snitching” to members of the inspection team or otherwise “not cooperate” with the inspection. “Supervisors appeared unaware or uninterested in any of these issues,” Ruffin concluded.
His findings were provided to Lamberth and other judges at the district court, as well as acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and D.C. Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer, along with USMS officials and Assistant Attorney General Kristin Clark, who leads DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
D.C. Council member Trayon White, Sr., who is also running for mayor, said, “I’m deeply disturbed that we only have attention now that the January 6 insurrectionists carried attention to this issue.”
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Christopher Geldart also found the USMS allegations “deeply concerning.”
At a Judiciary and Public Safety oversight roundtable meeting, several local officials, attorneys, and activists criticized Geldart and current D.C Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) for failing to proactively address the long-standing problems at the jail. Bowser later announced an agreement with USMS outlining how the parties will address these issues.
That “Memorandum of Understanding” is described by Geldart as a “collaborative opportunity to accelerate one of the mayor’s priorities to improve systems and services throughout the justice system.”
Bowser said she “appreciate[d] this collaboration” with USMS, adding that everyone housed in the DOC “should be treated humanely and have safe conditions.”
After the inspection findings were presented, DOJ said that all those housed in CDF—approximately 1,500 people—will be moved to the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Nearly 400 of those are awaiting court appearances or post-sentencing prison housing assignment. Many are from the D.C. area and will now be held over four hours away.
The January 6 rioters housed in CTF will not be moved.
Additional sources: AP News, Politico, Washington Post
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