US Marshals find poor conditions necessitate transfer for DC jail prisoners, but not Capitol riot defendants

The U.S. Marshals Service concluded conditions in a Washington, D.C., jail are so poor that 400 inmates held there will be transferred to a federal prison in Pennsylvania.

This follows a surprise inspection finding unsanitary living conditions and mistreatment, but the law enforcement agency also determined the situation was not nearly as bad at a linked facility holding defendants in Capitol riot cases.

The inspection, which took place last month, was "prompted by recent and historical concerns raised regarding conditions" at the District of Columbia's Department of Correction facilities, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement on Tuesday.

The investigation took place at the Central Treatment Facility and the Central Detention Facility in southeast Washington.

The U.S. Marshals Service said it "reviewed both housing facilities and conducted more than 300 voluntary interviews with detainees."

The inspection at Correctional Treatment Facility, which houses an estimated 120 federal detainees, including roughly 40 defendants in pretrial custody related to alleged offenses stemming from events that took place on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, "did not identify conditions that would necessitate the transfer of inmates from that facility at this time," the agency said.

But the inspection of Central Detention Facility, known as the D.C. Jail, which holds approximately 400 federal detainees, "revealed that conditions there do not meet the minimum standards of confinement as prescribed by the Federal Performance-Based Detention Standards." U.S. Marshals Service leadership decided to remove all of the detainees under their custody there to a federal penitentiary roughly 200 miles away in Pennsylvania.

Lawyers for Jan. 6 defendants held in pretrial detention have argued that their prison conditions are poor and unacceptable.

In mid-October, a federal judge placed top officials in the U.S. Department of Corrections in contempt after ruling they violated the civil rights of a prisoner.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said the violation came when Washington Department of Corrections Director Quincy Booth and Warden Wanda Patten refused to provide medical papers for Christopher Worrell, an accused Jan. 6 rioter.

Worrell, an alleged member of the Proud Boys, broke his hand in May, and a surgeon recommended in June he get surgery, medical treatment that he reportedly had not received at the time. His lawyer also said he has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"It is more than just inept and bureaucratic shuffling of papers," Lamberth said. "I find that the civil rights of the defendant have been abridged. I don't know if it's because he is a Jan. 6 defendant or not, but I find that this matter should be referred to the attorney general of the United States ... for a civil rights investigation."

In his ruling, Lamberth said, "It is adjudged that the Warden of the D.C. Jail Wanda Patten and Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections Quincy Booth are in civil contempt of court. The Clerk of the Court is ordered to transmit a copy of this order to the Attorney General of the United States for appropriate inquiry into potential civil rights violations of January 6 defendants, as exemplified in this case."

Worrell is facing six charges tied to the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. There are counts of civil disorder and physical violence in the Capitol grounds or buildings, including the alleged use of pepper spray against officers. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Lamont Ruffin, the acting U.S. marshal for the U.S. District Court in Washington, sent a Monday memo to Booth, the D.C. director of the Department of Corrections, noting that an eight-person deputy marshals team inspected the D.C. Jail facility between Oct. 18 and Oct. 22, with Ruffin personally visiting the final day.

"There is evidence of systemic failures, in particular at the Central Detention Facility, that may warrant further examination by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division," he concluded.

Ruffin said a formal summary of the inspection is in the works but noted some specific findings.

These findings included: "water and food appeared to be withheld from detainees for punitive reasons"; "standing human sewage" in prison cells; jail staff confirming that "water to cells is routinely shut off for punitive reasons"; hot meals being served cold and congealed; and pervasive drug use with "marijuana smoke and odor" widespread.

The U.S. marshal said some detainees had observable injuries without corresponding medical or incident reports, that jail staff were observed "antagonizing" detainees, and several prison staff "were observed directing detainees to not cooperate" with inspectors, with one staffer warning a prisoner to "stop snitching."

Ruffin noted, "Supervisors appeared unaware or uninterested in any of these issues."

Many of the Capitol riot detainees have been held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours per day, allegedly in part for COVID-19 mitigation, an arrangement that has drawn bipartisan criticism from political figures such as Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The Justice Department said late last month that more than 650 individuals have been arrested in connection to the Capitol riot, including over 190 defendants charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.

The D.C. Jail is located at 1901 D Street in the southeast part of the nation's capital, while the Correctional Treatment Facility is located at 1901 E Street on the southeast part of the large multi-building interconnected jail complex on those blocks run by the Department of Corrections.

The two nearby locations have different deputy wardens. The DOC website says the D.C. Jail is a male-only correctional facility housing pretrial offenders, sentenced misdemeanants, and convicted felons awaiting transfer to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, while the Correctional Treatment Facility houses "female offenders, males, and juveniles being adjudicated as adults."

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