Monday, July 4, 2022
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Court Orders DC Jails to Step Up Efforts for Protection of Inmates From Coronavirus

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A US District judge has ordered in a lawsuit that the DC Department of Corrections must reform its jail protocol in order to protect inmates from the coronavirus outbreak more effectively.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of DC and the Public Defender Service against the Department of Corrections on behalf of the inmates.

The preliminary injunction was issued on Thursday, June 18, stating that the judge has concluded based on the evidence presented that the Department was aware of the risks of the disease but failed to take “comprehensive, timely, and proper steps to stem the spread of the virus.”

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly also ordered that the Department must provide prisoners suffering from health issues with medical care within 24 hours. And it has to adhere to the social distancing guidelines introduced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The DC jail system is also required to give prisoners necessary materials to clean their cells and instruction on how to use them, as well as provide access to confidential legal calls, increase coronavirus testing among them, according to the ruling.

The court determined that the infection rate at DC correctional facilities was “nearly 14 times higher than the rate of infection for other District of Columbia residents” as of mid-May, indicating a deterioration in conditions since early April, said a press release by the ACLU of DC.

“This is a huge victory for all of the human beings still incarcerated inside the D.C. Jail,” Steven Marcus, Staff Attorney, Public Defender Service of DC, was quoted as saying in the release.

“These long-awaited reforms will vastly improve the conditions inside the jail, and give everyone inside, prisoners and staff alike, a greater chance at surviving this pandemic. We look forward to working with DOC and other government agencies to continue people’s safe transitions out of the dangerous jail environment.”

Also commenting on the ruling, Scott Michelman, legal director at ACLU of DC, said:

“In today’s ruling, the Court rightly focused on actual conditions inside the facility, prioritizing the concrete findings of the court’s experts and the sworn evidence from affected prisoners over the government’s vague generalizations. The court correctly found that the District’s efforts have been too little, too late, and that judicial intervention is necessary to avert grave risks of serious illness and death.”

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