- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2015

A report from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee calls conditions at the D.C. Jail “alarming,” saying structures are deteriorating and that juveniles and drug addicts detained there need additional resources.

The report, released Thursday, said several cells had openings in the wall and some cell blocks had damaged concrete. It said the facility, which opened in 1976 and holds an average of 2,000 inmates, must be replaced.

The report also raises concern about whether anti-suicide initiatives were properly implemented after four inmates killed themselves in 2012 and 2013. It notes that some precautions put into place to prevent suicide, including isolation, were seen as punitive and might discourage inmates from reporting self-destructive thoughts.

In a written response to the findings, the D.C. Department of Corrections noted that it has noticeably improved jail facilities. The department said it has made progress in retrofitting 40 cells to make them “suicide resistant” by removing anything that could be used as a ligature point for a noose and installing clear panels to provide for better observation of inmates.

When the series of suicides was under investigation, nine cells were suicide-resistant. Report authors noted that only one suicide has been reported since, but it occurred at the central cell block, a separate facility that processes those who have been arrested.

One of the report’s authors, Covington and Burling lawyer Shelton Abramson, declined to speculate on whether improvements at the facility led to the decline in suicides.

“It does seem like there is more that can be done,” he said.

Although the suicide-resistant cells have had some items removed, he said, they differ little from the structures of the original cells.

The report also notes problems with the treatment of juveniles at the correctional treatment facility, where about 25 percent of the inmates are women, youths and lower-level offenders.

Juveniles at the central treatment facility were typically able to receive visits only through video rather than in person. The practice spans the entire jail population, but report authors said it appeared to be particularly problematic for youths. Requirements to keep juveniles separated by “sight and sound” from adult inmates and the difficulty in doing that while escorting youths to visitation areas seemed to be partially behind the practice, said report author Kevin Glandon, also a lawyer with Covington and Burling.

“Video visitation is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be done in lieu of the option for in-person visitation,” Mr. Glandon said Thursday at a discussion of the report.

At the time conditions and practices at the jail were under investigation, Mr. Abramson said, there seemed to be a lack of “structured activity” for juveniles.

Some of the points highlighted in the report were based on data from several years ago because of difficulty obtaining information from the jail, authors said.

The Department of Corrections suggested that it has made many changes since the investigations were conducted, including a “significantly expanded the juvenile program” with lessons on social development, a barber instruction program and support groups, in addition to schooling. It also noted that juveniles are granted monthly in-person visits with family in exchange for good behavior.

Other recommendations include increasing treatment options for inmates with drug addictions, constructing a new facility to address the structural and design issues, and resuming management of the correctional treatment facility from Corrections Corporation of America when its lease expires in 2017.

“Due to the nature of the problems and the measures needed to resolve them, it is apparent that efforts to move forward should be carried forward by the Mayor and City Council,” the report states.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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