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COVID-19 is a death sentence for the hundreds of people trapped inside D.C. jail

An American has started a petition demanding the immediate release of the hundreds of people in DC Jail, Hope Village and Fairview Halfway Houses.

April Goggans says COVID-19 is a death sentence for the hundreds of people trapped inside D.C. jail and demands that D.C officials immediately release as many people as possible from incarceration to save lives and prevent the spread of this deadly virus.

The petition reads:

230 and growing. That is the number of people currently quarantined inside D.C. jail after coming into contact with a correctional staff member who tested positive for COVID-19.

Public health officials have repeatedly warned that the only way to flatten the curve and to save countless lives is to immediately release incarcerated people. The D.C. Jail is no different. Most of the roughly 1,600 people trapped inside are awaiting trial and presumed innocent. Several are serving sentences for petty and other low-level offenses. Many have pre-existing medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the virus, while others are elderly and frail. Today, each of them is facing the possibility of a death sentence.

We don’t have much time left. The virus is spreading rapidly and could infect hundreds of people within days. Daniel, will you sign this petition demanding D.C. officials to protect incarcerated people and the larger public from COVID-19?

From the moment Mayor Bowser declared a public health emergency, defense lawyers have filed hundreds of motions in D.C. Superior Court demanding the release of their clients. Despite the flood of motions, D.C. Superior Court judges continue to operate business as usual. Rather than acknowledge the life or death circumstances at the D.C. Jail, judges are callously denying bond review motions and continuing to detain countless individuals.

While the judges quickly shut down courtrooms to protect their own health and well-being, they have refused to show this same level of concern to the people whose lives hang in the balance inside of the D.C. Jail. With each ruling, the D.C. Superior Court judges are reinforcing a clear reality that Black and Brown people have long known: courthouses are a place where the lives of some are valued and the lives of others are not.

But it is not only judges whose inaction risks the lives of everyone at the D.C. Jail. Attorney General Karl Racine has also made clear where he stands on the issue. Despite his claims of being a “progressive” prosecutor, Racine’s actions show that he is nothing more than a politician who says one thing but does another. Attorney General Karl Racine proclaimed to the nation that “in [these] ever-challenging times, prosecutors must stand up for the human dignity and constitutional rights of those in custody who are too easily forgotten.” Yet, for the roughly 1,600 people at the D.C. Jail where the virus has been spreading rapidly, Racine has done absolutely nothing.

Racine’s clear inaction puts all of us in harm’s way. Why? Because jails are not closed environments. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly correctional staff, cycle in and out of these places every day, guaranteeing the spread of COVID-19 beyond the facility to the larger public.

That is why we are calling on D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin, Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division Juliet McKenna & Deputy Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division Danya Dayson to IMMEDIATELY do the following in order to save lives:

  • Exercise their authority to immediately decarcerate the D.C. Jail.
  • Stop defending the Department of Corrections campaign of lies and instead tell the public the truth regarding the nightmarish conditions inside of the D.C. Jail.
  • Stop blocking defense lawyers’ subpoenas for video footage from inside of the jail. Videos do not lie and will document the DOC’s abuse and recklessness. Attorney General Racine should immediately authorize an independent public health expert to enter the D.C. Jail to assess and monitor the conditions of confinement unannounced while the jail is being rapidly decarcerated.
  • End the culture of torture at the D.C. Jail.

The current lockdown has human beings trapped in cages for 23 ½ hours a day. Everyone should have access to proper medical care and supplies to help slow the spread of COVID-19 while the jail is being rapidly decarcerated.

Time is of the essence. And we must move quickly. Tell D.C. officials to immediately release as many people as possible from incarceration to save lives and prevent the spread of this deadly virus.

The people inside D.C. Jail are being held captive in conditions that amount to torture. Despite the spread of this highly contagious and deadly virus, the DOC is not providing proper medical care and ignoring the desperate cries for help from the sick. The DOC has even gone as far as locking everyone in their cells, often with two people in the same cell, for 23 ½ hours a day, in a misguided attempt to contain the virus. As if this was not horrific enough, the DOC has refused to provide hand sanitizer, basic cleaning products, or even adequate amounts of soap, so people can try their best to protect themselves from a virus that may kill them.

Conditions in the jail are so brutal that the union representing the correctional officers who work there are supporting the ACLU’s lawsuit against their own employer, the DOC. According to the union’s attorney, “The DOC management has created an unconscionable public health crisis, and almost certainly guaranteed and accelerated the rampant spread of COVID-19 within the DOC facilities and the communities in which the staff live.” The people trapped at the D.C. Jail are watching and waiting helplessly for the day when their own bodies are ravaged by its symptoms.

As the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Racine’s office represents the Department of Corrections in this suit. Right now, Racine has the opportunity to rise to the challenge and ensure that the DOC complies with his own public proclamations. Instead, Racine is exposing himself as an opportunistic and hypocritical politician.

When the City Council passed emergency legislation authorizing the DOC to release all people serving misdemeanor sentences, Racine could have supported the immediate release of all individuals serving sentences on those petty offenses. Instead, he actively opposed the release for many.
When PDS and the ACLU filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the DOC, demanding the Department of Corrections to release individuals and take immediate steps to remedy the horrific conditions at the D.C. Jail, Racine could have endorsed those measures. Instead, Racine chose to perpetuate the Department of Corrections’ campaign of lies with each legal pleading filed by his office.
Perhaps the clearest demonstration of Racine’s duplicity is his office’s resistance to transparency and oversight. For example, Racine’s office has fought against an independent public health expert being allowed to assess and monitor conditions inside the jail as well as the video to document conditions inside of the jail. The question we should all be asking Attorney General Racine is “What are you hiding?”
The cowardice of D.C. Superior Court judges and the hypocrisy of Attorney General Karl Racine are no longer just ugly character flaws, they are obstacles endangering the lives of everyone held at the D.C. Jail.

We will not forgive and history will not forget. Join us in demanding the immediate release of the hundreds of people trapped inside D.C jail.

Yours in freedom,

— April Goggans, Black Lives Matter DC

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