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Federal judge orders more COVID-19 protections for DC jail inmates

Federal judge says inmates are likely to prove "deliberate indifference" by DC Department of Corrections in how it handled the spread of coronavirus behind bars.

WASHINGTON — Since April, WUSA9 has covered a federal lawsuit where inmates claim “deliberate indifference” by the DC Department of Corrections. Thursday, a federal judge agreed that inmates are likely to prove that claim in court.

Thus, US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly decided to give inmates more protections to prevent against further COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Kollar-Kotelly ordered the following additional inmate protections:

  1. A medical care system ensuring inmates receive attention from a medical provider within 24 hours of reporting health issues.
  2. DC Department of Corrections must comply with CDC guidelines keeping inmates at least 6 feet apart for social distancing.
  3. DC Department of Correction must provide inmates with adequate cleaning supplies and continue to provide outside cleaning services.
  4. Inmates placed in medical isolation must be ensured that conditions in isolation are non-punitive, including access to legal and personal phone calls, clean clothing and linens.
  5. All DC jail inmates must have access to confidential communications with their attorneys of sufficient duration.

RELATED: ACLU wins suit against DC Department of Corrections calling for immediate updates amid coronavirus pandemic

The rate of infection among jail inmates and staff plateaued this past month. As of June 17, 207 inmates and 86 employees tested positive for COVID-19, and one employee and one inmate have died due to the virus. The court found that "as of mid-May the infection rate at the Jail was nearly 14 times higher than the rate of infection for other District of Columbia residents." 

D.C.'s Department of Corrections was ordered by the judge to provide an update by June 29, 2020.

“This is a huge victory for all of the human beings still incarcerated inside the D.C. Jail,” Steven Marcus, attorney for the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia, said. “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." 

RELATED: 'This is not jail. This is the cemetery. We're just waiting to die.' | DC inmates & officers speak out

Credit: Haleigh Purvis
DC's Central Detention Facility

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