District of Columbia Sued Over DC Department of Corrections Lack of Medical Care

For more information, contact:

Megan Luckenbaugh, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs megan_luckenbaugh@washlaw.org, 202-319-1000 x 114

WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, incarcerated individuals with serious medical needs at the D.C. Jail filed a class action lawsuit against the District of Columbia on behalf of themselves and other incarcerated persons demanding that the District meet its constitutional obligation to provide them with constitutionally required medical care. Each of the individuals named in the lawsuit has suffered serious harm due to dangerous and systemic deficiencies in the D.C. Jail’s health care system, ranging from failing to biopsy or otherwise diagnose a mass in a patient’s testicle for more than a year to repeatedly failing to provide vital medication to a patient with chronic heart failure. One patient has been nearly blind for the duration of his incarceration because the jail has failed to consistently provide him with the medicated eye drops and prescription eyeglasses that he needs to see. Even basic medical supplies were denied—the jail regularly provided too few catheters, the wrong size of catheters, and inadequate sanitation supplies to a patient with chronic urology problems, such that the patient has experienced unnecessary pain, bleeding, and recurrent infections.

The District has long been aware of poor medical care in its two primary detention facilities, the Central Detention Facility (“DC Jail”) and the Correctional Treatment Facility. The D.C. Jail was under federal receivership from 1995 to 2003 due to poor medical and mental health care, and lawsuits regarding medical care denials have persisted since. Federal and local judges have ordered multiple individuals released from custody in the last few years because the District proved unable to provide them with adequate medical care despite repeated warnings from the courts.

Conditions in the two detention facilities came under further scrutiny in the fall of 2021 after a U.S. Marshals Service inspection revealed inhumane conditions, including people with observable injuries but no corresponding medical or incident reports. After the inspection, the U.S. Marshall’s service removed 400 people from the jail’s custody because the jail failed to “meet the minimum standards of confinement.”

“The District is well aware of its decades long failure to provide even the most basic health care to the people in its custody, let alone what is required under the constitution,” said Jacqueline Kutnik-Bauder, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, Deputy Legal Director. “This must stop now. No one should suffer simply because the Department of Corrections is unwilling or unable to ensure that people get the necessary treatment, medication and supplies.”

“The District of Columbia’s ongoing failure to provide prescribed care to incarcerated human beings with serious medical conditions is unconscionable,” said John A. Freedman, Arnold & Porter’s Senior Pro Bono Counsel. “We are proud to stand with our clients and co-counsel in remedying this intolerable situation.”

The Supreme Court of the United States has long held that jails and prisons cannot deny essential medical care to people who are incarcerated. Most of the approximately 1,400 individuals incarcerated in the Central Detention Facility and the Correctional Treatment Facility are detained pretrial, meaning they have not been convicted and cannot constitutionally be subjected to any form of punishment. Even for those who are being held following conviction, medical care denials are not part of their sentences. Indeed, the Supreme Court has deemed it to be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution to deny incarcerated individuals essential medical care.

The individuals who filed the class action lawsuit hope the case will improve medical care for everyone incarcerated in the jail. They are represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs and Arnold & Porter.

Read the filed complaint here.

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