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Washington Lawyers’ Committee Report: D.C. Youth Facing Deplorable Conditions in Adult Jail

Posted in 2015, Take Action Now Tuesday, 07 July 2015

By: Nicholas Bookout, CFYJ Fellow 
On June 11th, 2015, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released a report entitled, “D.C. Prisoners: Conditions of Confinement in the District of Columbia.” This report discusses the dreadful conditions faced by those housed in D.C. jail facilities, including vermin and pest infestations, heightened suicide rates, a crumbling physical infrastructure replete with leakages and mold, and an understaffed and undertrained correctional staff. 
While the reported conditions are dehumanizing and unacceptable for any individual, imagine being a child in such a facility. Unfortunately, at the time of this report, this was the reality being lived by 25 of D.C.’s youth under the age of 18. D.C. law permits youth under 18 to be housed in the D.C. jail, both for pretrial and post-conviction detention. To learn more about D.C. youth in the adult system, check out this 2014 report by DC Lawyers for Youth and the Campaign for Youth Justice.  
In addition to simply living in this deplorable environment, these youth face additional problems associated with being children in an adult facility. For example, in an effort to keep youth separated from adults in the D.C. jail, there is the excessive use of solitary confinement, in some instances a full two months of 23 hours a day in solitary confinement with only one hour of recreation. 
At a point in their lives when family involvement is critical, youth are limited to video visitation, unable to spend time with family members in person. Life for a juvenile in a D.C. adult facility is not limited to physical and emotional depravity, however. Per this report, education programming is vastly limited, and youth are therefore denied the mental stimulation their developing brains desperately need. Additionally, research shows us that youth who are transferred from the juvenile court system to the adult criminal system are approximately 34% more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested for violent or other crime.
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee makes strong recommendations to improve conditions of confinement for D.C. inmates, including:
  • Closing the Central Detention Facility and the Correctional Treatment Facility and construct a new, safer, more effective facility
  • Expanding the Secure Residential Treatment Program
  • Correcting deficiencies in suicide prevention and youth confinement
  • Conducting a review of training of correctional officers tasked with specialized functions related to mental health or the juvenile unit
  • Revising current policies restricting “Good Time Credits”--a program which reduces sentences for successfully completing academic, vocational, and rehabilitation programs
  • Returning management of the Correctional Treatment Facility to District control
The recommendations are the product of a study that brought together legal, civil rights and criminal justice experts, as well as senior federal and District of Columbia judges.  With the assistance of the DC JOY campaign, DC Council should embrace these recommendations and take action to remove youth from the D.C. Jail.