White bars of a jail cell.

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Hazardous Conditions Prompt Call for New D.C. Jails

March 1, 2019

By Scott Gelman

Unsafe conditions at two D.C. jails have prompted calls for a new facility. 

A new report uncovered leaking roofs, excess dust, inadequate temperatures during the winter and broken lights in inmate cells at the The Central Detention and The Correctional Treatment facilities -- the city's two main jails for men and women. 

The D.C. auditor also found unsanitary conditions in food preparation, bent seats, damaged janitor’s closets and peeling paint on desks and bed frames. 

The jail is 40 years old and has been plagued by overcrowding and unsafe living conditions in the past. Auditor Kathleen Patterson said that failing to act upon the recommendations outlined in her report would “put the health and safety of inmates and [Department of Corrections] staff at risk and increase the risk of lawsuits against the District.”

In addition to the living concerns, the Department of Health failed to conduct its three required inspections twice in a four-year period, the report found. It added D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city council didn’t allocate enough funding to upgrade the facility.

WPGC contacted Bowser’s office for comment.

To improve the jail conditions, the report suggests the DOH execute its required inspections and that the jail’s service provider meet food safety laws. It also recommends the mayor and city council invest in upgrades for the facility to prevent the hazardous conditions from worsening.

“Our current facility was built nearly a half century ago.,” Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said in a statement. “So much has changed in what we know about successful rehabilitation, and the next facility, as urgently as it is needed, must have meaningful engagement and buy-in from a diversity of stakeholders. This process will create the necessary blueprint for moving forward. In the interim, we must provide humane and dignified conditions.”

In 2018, Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said 2025 is the earliest construction on a new jail can begin. He estimated it could take four or five years to finish.

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