COVID-19 Infections Down at D.C. Jail as Lawsuit Continues

By LaTrina Antoine

After a lot of early attention, a coronavirus-related lawsuit against the District Department of Corrections has been moving ahead, even as more inmates are granted early release.

As of May 17, there are 22-percent fewer inmates than when the lawsuit was first filed in March. The inmates had claimed that the Department of Corrections was recklessly endangering prisoners’ health by not taking preventive measures to avoid infection.

Currently, there are 28 inmates suffering from COVID-19 at the jail’s facilities. The latest two were reported sick on May 17. One hundred and fifty inmates had already recovered.

Even with those improvements, court-ordered inspections of Department of Corrections facilities have turned up a number of issues, mostly related to staff shortages and poor procedures.

Issues have related to cleaning, medical access and social distancing among inmates. But court-appointed inspectors also found that prisoners were being denied privacy in calls with their lawyers.

“This is still a problem,” U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said during a May 11 teleconference that addressed the second inspection of the jail.

Preventive measures, including ensuring social distancing, have resulted in inmates being kept in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

The new schedule has meant that inmates get their allotted hour at all times of the day, even in the middle of the night. Still, some inmates complain that they are not receiving the hour every day.

Part of the blame for that, according to the court-appointed inspectors, is a stressful mix of factors, such as inmates refusing to go back in cells, being disruptive and fighting.

A final report on the state of Department of Corrections facilities is due on May 20.

LaTrina Antoine is editor in chief of D.C. Witness.


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