Amid Washington’s graduation season, we look at the craft of writing and delivering commencement speeches. What advice sticks — and what doesn’t?
A new report from the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor outlines deteriorating conditions in the D.C. Jail and the Correctional Treatment Facility. The auditor urges D.C.’s Department of Corrections to move forward with building a new jail.
The report finds that the Department of Corrections has been cited for “repeated and uncorrected violations of industry standards related to environmental conditions, including room temperatures, sanitary conditions, pests, broken fixtures, and inadequate lighting.” Some citations have reoccurred consistently from 2014 to 2018. The auditor also expressed concern that the Department of Corrections isn’t receiving enough funding to improve its conditions.
The Director for the D.C. Department of Corrections, Quincy Booth, sits down with Kojo to discuss the jail’s conditions and respond to the report.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Quincy Booth Director, D.C. Department of Corrections; @DCCorrections
MATT MCCLESKEYThis is The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. I'm Matt McCleskey sitting in today for Kojo. We're glad you're with us. Later in the broadcast spring cleaning is on many people's minds. We'll look at different approaches to organizing and streamlining clutter. But first, the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor released a report last week that outlined what it called the deteriorating condition of the D.C. jail.
MATT MCCLESKEYUnsanitary rooms, broken plumbing, leaking ceilings, and improper temperatures during winter months were some of the problems the report highlighted. It urges the D.C. Department of Corrections to build a new jail something the District has had on the agenda and even in the budget for years. Joining us now to talk about the jail's condition and to respond to that report is Quincy Booth, the director of the D.C. Department of Corrections. Quincy Booth, thank you so much for being here today.
QUINCY BOOTHThank you for having me, sir.
MCCLESKEYWell, as we said this report laid out some pretty big issues, plumbing and leaks and room temperatures. It also noted that Aramark, the jail's food service provider, had been cited for unsanitary conditions including pests and some other issues. It's a pretty long list. What's going on and what's being done to address some of these problems?
BOOTHSo just to be clear, with the list that was stated, I think it's extremely important to set the record, the report read as in those were items and those were problems that we have and those problems still remain. The building is over a million square feet. We have annually over 12,000 people that come in and out of our facility coupled with there's many cells as well as many showers and many fixtures. And I set the stage to say we will have problems, as problems arise we resolve them.
BOOTHAnd so it's quite misleading to say that those problems still exist, because they don't exist. It didn't talk about our preventative maintenance plan as well as how we actually move forward and address those items that was listed.
MCCLESKEYSo you're saying it's more of a rolling set -- if issues come up you fix them. They come up again and you fix them.
MCCLESKEYSo you don't agree with everything in the report. What in particular are some of the things that you find problematic?
BOOTHSo in the sense -- I find it problematic, again, they didn't set the stage as well as to be clear if it was hazardous and dangerous as it was stated, which I disagree with that statement in an assumption. We would not be ACA accredited as well as NPHHC, which is a national accreditation that jails and prisons go through that they go through a very strenuous exercise to ensure that we meet the standards, and we met the standards for it and we just received accreditation. And the jail has been accredited since 2009, sir.
MCCLESKEYAnd the building itself is more than 40 years old. It seems like it's pretty common consensus that something new is going to be needed if not now, soon. Does that contribute to the sense then of the rolling sort of issues where something -- you may fix it, but then something else somewhere else or the same thing comes up again.
BOOTHCorrect, correct. If you have an old building, you will have issues. If I think about my home, you know what I mean? Growing up, I had issues, but we resolved and we repaired them.
MCCLESKEYIn terms of funding from the city that was one of the things that the auditor's report also put forth, do you feel like the Department of Corrections is getting enough money from the city to maintain the facility?
BOOTHYes. Mayor Bowser has been committed to the agency to give us exactly what we need in the beginning of the year in various ways to make sure that we maintain a safe and secure environment.
MCCLESKEYI want to ask about that in particular, because there is some discrepancy between the amount asked for and the amount given. I understand that over the past six years the department asked for around $330 million for its capital budget. The amount received was significantly less than that closer to $31 million and the auditor seemed concerned about that. What would that money go for? You say what you get is enough. Then what's not happening with the money that you don't get?
BOOTHSo it's not necessarily -- it's sort of as the deputy mayor had stated far as the pie in the sky and when we're having sort of big visions and big statements that we are looking at. The mayor's office has provided things that we've needed. We had an event that occurred a couple of years ago when we needed a chiller to control the temperatures within the jail to get them to a more regulated space, which we were seeing as a problem, and that was discovered during our preventative maintenance as well as listening to concerns of the men and women that we have in our care.
BOOTHAnd so it's an ongoing thing and when you think about, again, a building that's 40 plus years old, there's things that we know about. And then there's things that we discover. And we discover those things that are outside the realm of what we requested, we have that conversation with the deputy mayor's office and with the mayor's office to ensure that we have what we need to ensure that it's a safe environment.
MCCLESKEYHow urgent -- the D.C. auditor's report says that we need a new jail for the city. We do need a new building. Now how urgent is that to you and for the Department of Corrections?
BOOTHIt's an urgent matter and I spoke about this the last time that I was on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. But I must remind you in this conversation that it's not as easy as just saying, we just need a new jail, right? So there's some thoughtful pieces that we must be considerate around. One, again, the Bowser Administration -- so just to set the record straight, we're in alignment as we said this before the auditor's report, around a new jail, but being clear, a new jail is going to be probably one of the largest capital expenses that we take on as a city, right?
BOOTHBut also the fundamental question that we must consider, that the Bowser Administration is committed to is understanding what are we using jails and prisons for, right? And so that consists of us doing with our partners, OVSJG, issued a grant to community based organization that's going to have that conversation of one, what are we using jails and prisons for? And when we have a jail, right, what exactly is needed as it relates to programing space in building on the great programs that we have in the jail. And so it's not a piece of just saying, hey, this is what we know that we need?
BOOTHIt's being very thoughtful of one talking about the criminal justice system and talking about how are people coming in contact, because there are opportunities for diversion that people can go into or there's better placements that people can receive treatment from as it relates to mental health, as it relates to substance abuse, as it relates to low level crimes. There's other alternatives that people can actually take advantage of.
BOOTHAnd so that then drives the conversation, right, around what is the size, the location, etcetera, not just the bed count, but also just around the programmatic needs, how do we actually facilitate that and (unintelligible) forget about healthcare as well too. So it's very -- many different folds.
MCCLESKEYYeah, and it's very complicated. When do you expect to hear back more on what some of those recommendations maybe?
BOOTHSo, to my understanding when talking to my colleague, Michelle Garcia, I believe the award was awarded on the last couple of months or so. And so I know that it is a process that probably will take several months to achieve. They have come to my office and we've talked about it. And I'm actively engaged as well as other community members are engaged to talk about what's needed for a new jail.
MCCLESKEYAnd it requires, I would imagine then also the administration working with the Council to appropriate the funds and to ultimately make it happen.
BOOTHIt's that, but it's also the community's understanding. So regardless of the conversation of having that with the Council, again, as I stated before, this is going to be a large capital project. That then the community has to understand what are these dollars going towards. And so anytime something is that big, because it will be larger than a school, potentially larger than a hospital and when I'm saying larger I'm not saying necessarily size, because that's going to be driven by the community. I am saying the cost amount because building jails, there's different types of material that generally you have to put into building a new jail that inflates the cost compared to other things.
MCCLESKEYIs there any sense yet or where it might be or is that further down the road?
BOOTHI think it's further down the road, and I think it's definitely a conversation that we will be informing as we have in the past, what the progress is as it relates to that.
MCCLESKEYI would imagine whenever you do build a new facility the older facility was built when -- when there was a different philosophy around corrections in terms of how inmates should be treated, how they should be housed. You mentioned some programs that you have in place now. What sort of things would be different with a new facility?
BOOTHSo right now and I'm really thankful to the men and women that we have that work at the Department of Corrections. We've been very creative to achieve those goals. Our goal is to one, have a safe and secure environment, but also our goal is to ensure that we assist people in their time of need. And so when men and women come into our care, they have a whole host of needs from healthcare to education needs. Sometimes they don't have their GED.
BOOTHSometimes they may have their GED or high school diploma and we have opportunities right now, which you may not be aware of. We have all of the universities that's in the area, they actually come into the facility and provide education. Majority of them are not for credit, but there's two universities, one is local, which is Georgetown University, they provide credit for the men and women that are in our care and as they leave, they can transition to Georgetown in their continued studies to get education. The thing that's interesting about that is that in some spaces we have it in a classroom where we have the real estate space, but going back to your original question.
BOOTHWhen it was 40 plus years ago, it really wasn't built with programming in mind. It was more so built to just keep people in a secure environment and not talking about how we can rehabilitate and address some of the people's needs. And so to your point, it's not just the bed space that we're looking for, which in my opinion, you also have to incorporate programming space that is conducive as well as an opportunity for the community, which we have many community partners that want to come in and do services as well as when the families come in as far as making it an inviting warm space that families can come and visit their loved ones in a space that right now we just don't have the space to afford that.
MCCLESKEYAnd it seems like everyone agrees there has certainly been improvement. In the auditor's report, in fact, at the end they acknowledged that the Department of Corrections mentioned significant improvements in terms of crowding since 2003 when legislation was passed to change that. So it seems like everyone agrees things are better now than they used to be, but with such an aging building, are you at all concerned that conditions are unsafe?
BOOTHNo, no. I wouldn't it because I think that is very misleading. We would not receive ACA accreditation if things were in the way that was stated in the report.
MCCLESKEYWell, in terms of the ongoing issues that keep popping up in terms of the plumbing, the showers or other things around the building, what do we do now until a new facility can be built? Given that that's a complicated process that will take some amount of time and a large amount of money, what are you doing now to keep things as good as you can with what you've got?
BOOTHSure. It's the continued investment that I spoke about earlier. I have a really amazing maintenance team and a deputy director that stays on top of this on a daily basis as well as the commitment that we receive from the mayor's office as it relates to addressing those matters. Often times we have -- excuse me. Not often times. We have a preventative maintenance plan in place. That was not necessarily talked about that we follow. And, again, when things arise that's outside of the preventative maintenance plan, i.e. the chiller that I mentioned to you before, we have that conversation to say, this was an unplanned expense that we're taking care of.
BOOTHThere was also -- when we were doing sort of our assessment, one of the major systems that we did was around the sewage where we replaced the sewage. So there's things that we're actually doing that wasn't necessarily highlighted that I would say that we're in constant communication, because we have to maintain the space in which we have right now, sir.
MCCLESKEYOne of the things that auditor's report talks about is the food service provider. It's a contract with Aramark and some issues around sanitary conditions there. Can you elaborate more on what you're doing to make sure things are sanitary?
BOOTHSure. That concern was expressed back in 2015-16, which wasn't quoted in the report. That was a problem. The deputy, I got on top of it with the team. We resolved the problem. We basically did a whole overall renovation of both kitchens that we have that were over at CTF and CDF. As well as we --
MCCLESKEYAnd what are CTF and CDF?
BOOTHThey're two facilities that we have.
MCCLESKEYJust for listeners here.
BOOTHSure. The one is the main jail that's the larger jail. That's the CDF, which is 40 plus years old. And then the CTF is about 20 plus years old. Still we did the renovation in both facilities as well as we change the pest contract that provided better services and better quality service. So what was mentioned was, again, going back to my initial statement, right? Where it didn't say that it was resolved and what time period it actually happened.
MCCLESKEYOne of the things come up in recent months, some activists claimed last month that inmates in the CTF, that's the Correctional Treatment Facility, so not the old jail building, but the one that's more like 20 years old. Some of the inmates there weren't allowed outside for up to eight months. Instead they said their recreation time was being held in an enclosed gym. Was inmate outdoor time limited?
BOOTHIt was limited, but it wasn't stated correctly in the sense of saying a year or eight months. It was around the winter months. The Department of Corrections committed to a safety and security for the men and women that we have in our care. Outdoor recreation at the CTF has been reduced, because of an unseasonable winter that we had where it was wet. And presently inmates at CTF receive daily recreation given weather permitting.
BOOTHAnd so just to paint the landscape so that you understand. Two different buildings, right? At the CDF, how it is sort of positioned is that it's concrete and it has asphalt on the top. And so when there's weather conditions it's not the same weather conditions and impact over at the CTF, which has essentially -- when it was built there is sort of this space if you can visualize it, right? Majority of it is grass and there's a small part that is maybe about 20 to 25 percent which is concrete, which is for basketball, right?
BOOTHAnd so when it's extremely wet we didn't want to have the men and women that we have in our care essentially stepping in mud and be unsafe, right? And so there's other opportunities that we afforded them as it relates to the gymnasium that has a full array from basketball to weightlifting, etcetera, as well as people were also involved in other activities that we have including the college classes that I mentioned to you earlier.
MCCLESKEYIs there any way on a day like that to at least let people get outside if they can't be outside for extended periods, but to get some fresh air?
BOOTHSo, yes. Yes, yes.
MCCLESKEYHow does that work?
BOOTHWe have a system in place and we had a system in place, but it's also, again, contingent upon the safety and security of it as well too. And so yes, we have a system in place.
MCCLESKEYAnd then who makes on a day to day basis those kind of calls?
BOOTHSo it is the warden of the jail.
MCCLESKEYThe warden of the jail and the staff and supervisors weigh in on that as well?
BOOTHThey weigh in and inform, as well as, we also survey the men and women that we actually have in our care. And in some cases they may want to do other things as opposed to going outside as well.
MCCLESKEYHow did this winter compare with past winters, just in general, interested to know sort of how wintertime varies versus summer or spring and was this particularly bad?
BOOTHIt was particularly bad from the judgement that we call, because, again, it was wet in that particular area. And so the last thing that we wanted to have was people walking in mud essentially and being unsafe.
MCCLESKEYWe got a tweet from Debra who says, "Director Booth is absolutely right that there needs to be carefully community conversation and planning around this project." She says, "We as a city really need to think purposely about who we send to jail and why." That gets at the idea more of the philosophy of incarceration and rehabilitation. What role do you play in figuring that balance out?
BOOTHSo moving forward, as I stated to you before, the award was awarded to the community based organization, which is CCE, and we will be engaged with them throughout the process. So when we're saying community, we're not just saying community in the sense that sometimes people thing it's not non-government. It is community that we (unintelligible) as far as the Bowser Administration to include community based organizations, regular citizens that live throughout all eight wards, the faith based community, government entities, both the federal and the local government, so it's literally a whole landscape of people that are in the ecosystem that we'll be serving just to ensure that all thoughts are incorporated and then we'll sort of go forward from there.
MCCLESKEYWell, as we wrap up I just want to ask again looking ahead to the possibility of new building, which seems like it would solve some of these long standing issues that keep recurring. With the department putting millions of dollars into repairing a building that is deteriorating over time, it seems like over the long term it's more cost efficient to just build a new jail sooner rather than later.
MCCLESKEYI mean, so that's accurate?
BOOTHThat is accurate to some degree depending upon, again, going back. I don't want to say it's that easy. It goes back to the initial statement that we were talking about far as the community engagement piece, because you in my opinion, you only get one shot at this. And so the last thing that you want to build is a space that is not conducive to the outcomes that the community as a whole desires. And so absent having that conversation around what we actually need, absent having a conversation around what is a reform far as the criminal justice system look like. You have to be very intentional and thoughtful in making sure that we incorporate the people that have been impacted by this.
BOOTHI failed to mention, which is a key driver in this conversation is also incorporating the returning citizens voices and concerns as well as their families. And so absent having that, you don't want to miss the mark by building something that is not effective in the long run.
MCCLESKEYWe do have one caller on the line we'll go to quickly, Molly calling from Rockville in Maryland. Molly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOLLYHi. Thanks for taking my call. Hi, Mr. Booth. I'm wondering with regard to community impact and input. In particular, there have been reports that inmates at CTF, the correction treatment facility, have not been permitted to have outdoor recreation as required. And I think the response given by your office was that the conditions had been wet. I'm wondering what that has to do with it.
MCCLESKEYYeah, we were just talking about that a bit, Molly, and that was in fact the reason Director Booth gave was the wet conditions over recent months. And it's been more wet perhaps than in past years. Do you expect that as we get into warmer weather -- I mean, it's obviously very cold today. But Director Booth, responding to Molly, do you think we can see more outside time for inmates?
BOOTHYes, yes. Weather permitting. So today folks are outside.
MCCLESKEYAnd then in terms of building the new facility, do you think it's going to take political will -- what's lacking in that equation now? Political will or money, what's it going to take to get it done?
BOOTHI believe the collective understanding from all stakeholders involved, because, again, you're going to have to have this commitment, because as stated if this is a project that we move forward with, right, it's incorporated in the capital budget. And it's in the budget over multiple years, and so if the agreement is not there by not just necessarily the Council, not just necessarily the executive. It's also the community so that they're advocating what they actually incorporated is coming to life.
BOOTHSo I think it's a will of everybody understanding, one, what are we using jails and prisons for? Are we being smart as it relates to justice? Are we being smart as it relates to building this facility? And being supported and moving the agenda forward.
MCCLESKEYQuincy Booth is Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections. I want to thank you so much for being with us today.
MCCLESKEYWe're going to take a break. When we come back on the other side, we'll talking about spring cleaning and decluttering, a couple of different approaches to that. I'm Matt McCleskey sitting in today for Kojo Nnamdi.
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