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ACLU wins suit against DC Department of Corrections calling for immediate updates amid coronavirus pandemic

An inmate has died from the coronavirus in a D.C. Jail, and employees have been worried about there safety due to the spread of coronavirus in the DOC system.

WASHINGTON — A federal court judge is ordering D.C. Department of Corrections to immediately improve conditions info the D.C. Jail, after an ACLU lawsuit that laid out how DC DOC wasn't providing adequate safety and health standards amid the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

The court order called for better social distancing practices, better medical care for inmates and increased access to attorneys for inmates, among other specific requirements. 

“This is a significant victory for the more than 1,400 human beings still incarcerated by the District at the D.C. Jail,” said Steven Marcus, Staff Attorney, Special Litigation Division, Public Defender Service. “The independent experts’ report confirmed many of our clients’ and jail staff members’ most damning allegations about conditions inside the Jail, and today’s decision orders the Department of Corrections to remedy those conditions right away.

Over 50 inmates at the D.C. Jail have tested positive for the coronavirus, and a 51-year-old inmate has even died from the coronavirus. 

“This is a significant victory for the more than 1,400 human beings still incarcerated by the District at the D.C. Jail,” said Steven Marcus, Staff Attorney, Special Litigation Division, Public Defender Service. “The independent experts’ report confirmed many of our clients’ and jail staff members’ most damning allegations about conditions inside the Jail, and today’s decision orders the Department of Corrections to remedy those conditions right away.”

Banks v. Booth was a class-action lawsuit brought by the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the ACLU of the District of Columbia. It is in connection with inmates at the D.C. Jail. 

DOC officers also have filed a lawsuit alleging inmates at staff are not being properly protected during the outbreak.

The DOC’s Medical Department and Unity Healthcare are working with DC Health on contact tracing and to protect the health and well-being of all individuals in DOC’s facilities.

“This is a significant victory for the more than 1,400 human beings still incarcerated by the District at the D.C. Jail,” said Steven Marcus, Staff Attorney, Special Litigation Division, Public Defender Service. “The independent experts’ report confirmed many of our clients’ and jail staff members’ most damning allegations about conditions inside the Jail, and today’s decision orders the Department of Corrections to remedy those conditions right away.”

Below is a list of improvements that the D.C. Jail must make amid the court order:

  • Jail-wide improvements in medical treatment, including expedited response to sick call requests;
  • Enforcement of social distancing, and better education and training for both prisoners and guards about COVID-19 precautions;
  • Consistent provision of proper cleaning supplies;
  • Improvement of conditions in isolation units, including ensuring access to daily showers, clean clothes and linens, and access to telephones for personal and legal calls, so that prisoners are not discouraged from reporting COVID-19 symptoms by the prospect of being isolated in punitive conditions;
  • Increased access to attorneys, including “access to confidential, unmonitored legal calls of a duration sufficient to discuss legal matters”; and
  • Improvements to visitor screening, including staff training on the use of infrared thermometers.

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