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Hazards found inside DC jails during surprise inspections

A federal judge will decide whether non-violent inmates and parole violators should get early release to contain the COVID-19 outbreak inside the jail.

WASHINGTON — Federally-appointed attorneys Grace Lopes and Mark Jordan reported their findings from surprise weekend inspections inside D.C. jail buildings to judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. The two inspectors said they talked to more than 100 inmates and guards.

They shared these key findings with Kollar-Kotelly by phone Wednesday:

  • Inmates told inspectors they thought twice about reporting symptoms because being sent into isolation meant no showers for several days, not being able to call families, and a lack of clean sheets and body wipes.
  • Inmates said they were making their own rags out of shirts to clean their cells.
  • Understaffing at the jail means that social distancing between inmates is harder to maintain, according to inspectors.
  • Inspectors said staff need better training at using thermometers after multiple low readings were noticed.

 "We have dire conditions the District of Columbia didn’t really try to fix in any serious way until the court appointed these experts," ACLU DC attorney Scott Michelman said. 

RELATED: DC Central Detention Facility records first inmate death after COVID-19 diagnosis

One inmate wrote last week of "coughing up blood for two days" and not being able to see a doctor despite several requests.

Another inmate who works in the kitchen said other inmates are coughing, while still working and serving food.

The latest COVID-19 numbers from Department of Corrections:

  • 18 guards infected
  • 56 inmates infected
  • One inmate death

For the second week in a row, those infection numbers are triple what they were the previous week.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said that efforts are underway to not put as many people inside the jail.

"MPD, for example, has arrested fewer people from the average of 92 a day before the public health emergency to about 29 arrests per day," Bowser said in a Wednesday news conference. 

The D.C. ACLU is pressing for the early release of non-violent inmates in custody at the DC jail. 

"It's petri dish of people waiting to be infected as this virus spreads quickly," Michelman said. "So we need immediate action to relieve the pressure on the conditions in the facility."

RELATED: 36 inmates eligible for early release from DC jail

No federal court decision is expected before the next hearing on Monday.

In a sign of the times, the federal hearing run by the judge from her home was interrupted when a construction crew attempted to get the judge to move her car from a parking spot. 

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