District Task Force Releases Report on DC Jails and Justice System

Report Notes that Neither Investments nor Facilities Currently Meet District Needs

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DC Central Detention Facility (1901 D St. SE).

A new report released Tuesday to evaluate a new correctional plan for the city says that the DC Jail is under-resourced and over-capacity but recommends that as the District looks at a new facility, they also prioritize investments in alternatives to and prevention of justice-system involvement as well as services to returning citizens.

The Task Force’s Phase I Report, Jails & Justice: A Framework for Change, presents 17 recommendations to work towards meeting those needs.

Convened by the Council for Court Excellence six months ago, the Task Force is a 26-member independent advisory body, convened by the Council for Court Excellence to evaluate elements of a new correctional plan for the city, make recommendations about who should and should not be held in D.C.’s facilities, and articulate our community’s priorities for a secure detention facility’s population, location, design, and services.

The report recommends that, “upon completing a plan for community investment, decarceration, and local control, the District should renovate or build facilities to support its new goals for prevention, intervention, secure detention, and reentry.”

At the Tuesday morning release event, Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) said that while the current jail needed to be replaced ‘yesterday’, the plan doesn’t call for a new jail building but for a system that prioritizes alternatives to jail, prioritizing prevention and investments over incarceration.

The report recommends that the DC Jail be located near the current location of the correctional facilities. It also suggests it be designed to complement the surrounding community in terms of aesthetics but also transportation planning, traffic, parking and environment.

The task force sought input from nearly 2,000 residents, holding more than 20 focus groups and collecting input from the current population to look at what DC is and should be doing with the criminal legal system. The report synthesizes practitioner expertise, data analysis, and public feedback to make a case for a D.C. justice system that would serve as a national model.

Of District residents who responded to the Task Force’s survey, 75% believe incarceration is not the best way to handle crime – exposing a citywide desire for comprehensive, equitable reforms.

On any given day in 2018, the D.C. Dept. of Corrections held 2,059 people in custody. By far the largest proportion of these, 1,360 were held for technical violations rather than on a criminal charge.

The Task Force’s research reveals that for that year, 92 percent of those people in custody are black, a quarter were held on non-criminal supervision violations and the majority were from Wards 5, 6 and 8. 76 percent of the people in DC Jails have either a substance abuse disorder or a serious mental illness, and D.C.’s current facilities lack the physical space necessary to support the Dept. of Corrections’ innovative programming. Less than six percent of residents surveyed believe that D.C.’s current jail can meet the community’s needs.

Tyrell M. Holcomb, Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7F was the Chair on the Committee on Community Investments & Alternatives to the Criminal Justice System. He said that investments in the community need to be the first and foremost guiding principle of the justice system moving forward. Citing the impact of the justice system on the black community and the role of trauma in particular Holcomb said, “we have to ensure the investments are there in the beginning to young people get the support and services they need so we don’t have the cycles we’ve been going through as a people.”

The new report makes specific recommendations for progress, pointing to an increasing demand for alternatives to the District’s over-reliance on its criminal justice system. “It’s not just that the expectations of reform advocates have changed over the last decade; residents’ and government officials’ attitudes toward incarceration have also shifted,” said Misty C. Thomas, Executive Director of the Council for Court Excellence.

“We knew it was not enough to look at a jail’s design alone. The Task Force had to carefully consider community investment, decarceration, and local control issues to fully envision a just path forward.” Thomas said that the 17 recommendations are not ranked, and that the committee will seek community feedback during Phase II, when the committee works towards a plan for implementation.

The entire report is available to view online. Learn more about the Council for Court Excellence by visiting courtexcellence.org Interested parties can follow along with the work of the Task Force at www.courtexcellence.org-task-force