Anthony Petty and Shannon Fyfe, from Neighbors for Justice (a local organization founded in 2020 to support individuals who are incarcerated at the D.C. jail) recently published an opinion in the Washington Post. The piece responded to the Justice Department announcement that about 400 residents of the Central Detention Facility (CDF) at the D.C. jail will be transferred to the U.S. penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa. This arose from a recent inspection of the jail conducted by the U.S. Marshal’s Service. The following is from that piece.
The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) did the right thing in bringing these unacceptable conditions to light, and it is doing the right thing by attempting to secure better conditions for these individuals awaiting court appearances in federal cases or post-sentencing assignment to federal prisons. But sending these residents to Lewisburg will cause further harm, and the marshals must find a different solution.
Sending CDF residents to Lewisburg would take them from one bad environment to another — one that is perhaps even worse, and definitely farther from their support networks. This decision will limit their access to legal counsel and their families, and conditions at the facility are known to be inadequate, inhumane and violent.
The safety issues at the Lewisburg facility are disturbing. NPR and the Marshall Project found that the rate of violence among incarcerated individuals was six times higher at Lewisburg than at all federal prisons, in part because of the lack of mental health care, the frequent use of restraints and double-cell solitary confinement. A lawsuit filed in 2017 alleged that incarcerated people at Lewisburg were denied routine mental health care.
One of us, Anthony Petty, who was previously incarcerated at Lewisburg, hung his food from the ceiling of his cell at night so it would not be eaten by rats. He also recalls how officers would put people in handcuffs and belly chains for days, so tight that they would sometimes leave permanent marks. Officers would retaliate against individuals they deemed “troublemakers” by putting them in double-cell solitary confinement with volatile individuals, or putting them in a cell on the first floor with the windows open in winter or the windows closed in the summer, with no heat or air conditioning.