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Robert White’s Statement on the DC Jail and Returning Citizens

“I am very concerned about the serious reports coming from DC Jail residents and employees, which include the lack of shower access, residents not being able to make calls to family members or attorneys, and an alarming spread of the coronavirus within the jail. This follows weeks of previous reports that the DC Jail was not following social distancing protocols, that residents and employees did not have access to personal protective equipment, and a general lack of sanitation. As of April 26, 2020, 125 residents and 37 employees at the DC Jail had contracted the coronavirus, and it has taken the life of a resident there. We must do everything in our power to protect residents and employees at the DC Jail, and their families, and provide clarity on the conditions, operations, and a plan-of-action.

On April 19, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the DC Department of Corrections (DOC) to improve conditions at the DC Jail immediately, and ordered inspectors to examine conditions at the jail. The inspectors found that some residents were using their bath towels to clean living areas, some were not receiving soap regularly, and that cleaning supplies were not available to every unit. I commend the Bowser Administration for taking initial steps to address some of these issues, including releasing residents who do not pose a public safety risk to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Still, recent events at the DC Jail indicate that there is more immediate work to do to fully comply with the court order. I strongly urge swift action from the DOC and a clear plan of communication for the public. 

We also must work expeditiously to make sure residents returning from DC Jail, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and reentry facilities have the resources they need to find safe housing and access to healthcare services. I am concerned that many released residents from incarceration do not have a home to go to and will have a difficult time accessing critical services. This means that the District must increase its capacity to serve returning citizens during this public health crisis through agency coordination and preparedness.

The coronavirus outbreak continues to test our city, our country, and the world in unprecedented ways. The city must ensure that incarcerated residents and returning citizens do not face preventable illness or death while in our custody and that they have access to resources they need when they are released.”

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