On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Of the nearly 1,300 prisoners in the D.C. Jail, more than 200 have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus — as well as nearly 100 correctional officers — and one inmate and one worker have died.
The District’s prison population is down 28% since the end of March because of various factors like: fewer people being charged by police, court-ordered releases and transfers, and an increase in the release of non-violent prisoners.
Now, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of Washington is saying that D.C. officials have not taken proper measures in response to the pandemic and must do more to protect inmates and correctional officers. Kollar-Kotelly has ordered District and federal authorities to create a plan to reduce the number of inmates in the D.C. Jail system. She gave the D.C. Department of Corrections and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons until July 1 to deliver their plan.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
- Rhozier (Roach) Brown Chairman, the Coalition of National Association of Ex-Offenders
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast the pandemic has ushered in a new era for the medical field, one where the use of telehealth is more important than ever. We'll discuss the benefits and drawbacks to remote healthcare. But first there are nearly 1300 prisoners in the D.C. jail. And more than 200 have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus as well as nearly 100 correctional officers. One inmate and one worker have died.
KOJO NNAMDIIn separate lawsuits in April, several inmates and correctional officers sued the city, and last week a federal judge ruled that D.C. has not taken proper measures to protect them. The judge has ordered the District and federal authorities to create a plan to reduce the number of inmates in the D.C. jail system by July 1st. Joining me now to discuss this is Roach Brown. He's the Chairman of the Coalition of National Association of Ex-Offenders and a board member of PIPS, Previously Incarcerated People. He hosts the weekly show Crosswords on WPFW radio. Roach Brown, thank you so much for joining us.
RHOZIERAnd thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIRoach, the District did reduce the prison population by around 500 people because of the pandemic, but in your view how have D.C. officials handled this situation?
RHOZIERWell, in my view not only D.C., no city or government is moving fast enough. We're talking about people dying, man, and they're talking about legislation and policy. And you mentioned the court case last week. A federal judge ordered D.C. to give them -- issue more COVID-19 protection for D.C. jail inmates. Giving out protection is one thing. Kojo, we've been talking about trying to get these men and women released. The house is on fire and they're walking around with a can of gasoline saying, you're going to be safe.
RHOZIERWe got to get these men and women out. It doesn't matter how many tests or safety precautions they put in. It's a matter of life and death. And we're talking about letting these folks out, man. They're doing this all over the world. Iran released 70,000 people from prisons in Iran. China released thousands. Sweden, South America, everybody is releasing them. And we're talking about protection for D.C. Co prisoners, who are in the D.C. jail. They need to reverse that conversation and let them out.
NNAMDIRoach, you mention the U.S. District judge who found that D.C. officials have taken inadequate medical, social distancing, sanitation and isolation measures. Who do you point the finger at as being responsible for these failures?
RHOZIERI'm not pointing the finger. It's a citywide, nationwide or systemic, something about the attitude or the -- whatever. The people who runs corrections and prisons have a real mean, punitive negative attitude, man, but you have to do 15 years and a guy has been in 12. And the coronavirus is coming in. If you're in a pit and you're being surrounded by snakes and the snakes are biting and they tell you, you can't come out, because you aren't finished serving your time. The snakes are biting. These men are dying. And it's everybody's responsibility to stand up and speak for those folks who are not able to speak for themselves, man.
RHOZIERThis is not a cold or something, man, that you can go to the drugstore and get a Band-Aid. This is a life-death situation, and these people should be released. And I don't care who's responsible, who's in charge. Get off your can and release these men and women. They got modern technology. They can put everybody out, who's eligible to be released on electronic monitor. Man, you can't go nowhere -- even if you come out, you can't leave your neighborhood. You can't leave the city. You can't the leave the country, and most of these people don't travel out of the country. Let them out on electronic monitoring, compassion release. We got men 60, 70, 80, 90 years old, and they won't let them out, Kojo.
NNAMDIIt's amazing. Inspectors found that many inmates were not allowed to shower, clean their cells or contact family or their attorneys. Talk about that. Why is that happening?
RHOZIERWell, it's -- prisons are out of sight out of mind, and they need to be more transparent. With the protests we're having in the street and around the world about criminal justice reform and police brutality, we need the same thing and we need to add corrections to it, because you're talking about criminal justice reform, and not just the cops. It's the prisons. It's the prosecutors and the courts. And there's no transparency. We saw George Floyd executed and it was transparent. They're doing the same thing with people in prison. And we don't see it. We can't hear it. And we're paying the salaries and taxes for those folk that run the prison.
RHOZIERAnd judges are saying not let them out. There's a couple of judges that has ruled that even though the men are eligible, 70 or 80 years old paraplegic in wheelchairs and they won't let them out, man, because the crime they committed 40, 50 years ago. It isn't about the crime. It's about saving some lives. And whatever we can do to get everybody involved to get these people out of there. Put them on electronic monitoring. Man, they got all kinds of technological devices they can use to monitor and track somebody. So that isn't the issue. You know, we got to get folks out of there, Kojo.
NNAMDISo people know what it's like at the D.C. jail, as you know, D.C. jail cells are small. They're just six and a half feet by six and a half feet and they house two people. Is it possible to social distance in that situation?
RHOZIERNo. You can't do that. All the leading experts around the country are saying that out of the 10 hotspots in America, prisons and jails are eight of the 10 hotspots for transmission of the COVID virus. And if you're in a cell with a guy, it's a little six foot cell, hey man, it's a recipe for disaster. That's why I've been saying let them out, where you get more fresh air and get them away from that.
RHOZIERI just got a call last night, Kojo, from people in Hazelton, West Virginia. The female prison, the water is off. The waterline is broke and the ladies don't any hot water or any water to wash up or to bathe or even take care of themselves. They're bringing in port-a-potties or toilets inside. They don't have masks, sanitizers. They're being locked in their cells. There's no visits. The phone calls and their communications are being restricted. You can't access your family, your loved ones. There's no transparency in this whole thing.
RHOZIERAll we're getting is what the officials are telling us, unless somebody get a word out to us about what's really going on inside. So transparency need to be going to all these prisons, man. This ain't no joke. I'm glad you're doing this, Kojo, but we should do this every day. Our people are dying, man. This death, you don't come back if you die.
NNAMDIHere's Heather in Ward 1. Heather, you're on the air with Roach Brown. Go ahead, please.
HEATHERDirect the listeners to a spectacular article called "Punishment by Pandemic" about penitentiary -- the commons unit in southeast Arkansas. It's in the current issue of The New Yorker June 22 by Rachel Aviv. And it makes visible all the things, the issues, related to coronavirus and incarceration that most of us are simply not aware of. It's an incredible article.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us, Heather.
RHOZIEROkay. Thank you.
NNAMDIRoach, there are federal inmates housed in the D.C. jail. How is that making things difficult for D.C. officials to respond to this crisis? And why are they housed there?
RHOZIERWell, as you know, when they closed down Lorton with the Revitalization Act all D.C. prisoners in (word?) and custody and treatment were transferred over to the Bureau of Prisons, the federal system. And everybody that's convicted of a sentence of a year or longer you were in federal custody. So we're the only jurisdiction in the entire America that all offenders are classified as federal and we're sent to federal prison to serve our time. And the federal prisons are off the chain. What I mean off the chain, they're insensitive.
RHOZIERAttorney General Ball on March 6 ordered the BOP to release folks. This morning on my radio show we talked about there's several judges, who are saying that the BOP, the Bureau of Prison, is snubbing its nose at the federal courts and the judges and they're releasing whoever they want. There's 277,000 people in the federal prison. Six thousand or better are from D.C. And these folks are eligible for compassion release, to be transferred closer to home, etcetera. And we don't have that.
RHOZIERSo D.C. in the D.C. jail the only advantage is that when you go the feds it's in high standard in terms of custody and care. But the Bureau of Prisons are ignoring disregarding the Attorney General's order, court order, to release these people. And for whatever reason the transparency is not there. What do you want me to say about the BOP? The BOP didn't make the decision. Somebody in the BOP made the decision and they're not man enough or woman enough to put their name on and say, I decided this. We need transparency in all the prisons and over the D.C. jail, CTF. I think there's only been one inmate and one person died in the last 60 days over at the D.C. jail, but the bottom line is we got to get them out. You just said, two men in a six feet cell that's like two people being in your bathroom.
RHOZIERTwo people in your bathroom and you're all around there 24 hours a day. Whatever he got or you got, you're going to give it back to each other. We got to get them out of that environment. The environment is bad, bad.
NNAMDIHere's Greg in Alexandria. Greg, your turn.
GREGOh, thank you very much. I certainly don't mind what this gentleman is saying about the ones you can let out. And this may be a silly idea. But I'm a camper. And I see the yard out there. Move some of the cots out in the yard. I know if I was in jail I'd rather be out in the yard, because I'd get a little nervous. I'd rather be out in the yard anyways, fresh air. I don't know. Is that cruel and unusual?
NNAMDIYeah, but how do you respond to that, Roach?
RHOZIERWhat is he asking?
NNAMDIHe's saying (all talking at once) He's saying that they're spending too much time inside. They should be out on the prison yard. But that wouldn't make a difference, Roach, because they would still be incarcerated.
RHOZIERYou're still incarcerated. When come off the yard, you have to walk back. And they count you coming back in. So you're in close contact. And when you go to the cell block and when you go to the dining room or to the chapel or the law library you're still in contact with folks. The bottom line is save somebody's life. You can deal with all the punitive restrictions and all that kind of stuff afterwards. Put them in an environment, man, where people can live.
RHOZIERYou go to jail to serve time not to die, unless you're sent to death row. This virus sentencing everybody to death row, you know what I mean? You're going to death row without being tried. You already been tried for the offense you're in. This is double punishment.
NNAMDIHere is ...
RHOZIEROne of the defense I want to throw out -- go ahead.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, because we only have about a minute. So go ahead, Roach.
RHOZIEROkay. Like you're talking about they released Paul Manafort, one of President Trump's buddies and Michael Cohen. What about Bill Cosby? He's 83 years old and blind. We got an 83 year old blind man in prison. Sure he got some sexual offenses. The judge didn't sentence him to die. He didn't get a death sentence. He got a death sentence now, eighty-three years old. Iran, one of the most repressive countries in the world, released 77,000 of their prisoners.
RHOZIERBrazil, Argentina, everybody around the world is releasing prisoners, but we're doing it like you're giving out a cookie to one kid one at a time, one cookie one person. Less than 4,000 people has been released from the federal system out of 277,000 prisoners, 4,000. And you got men in there 50, 60, 70, 80 years old been in 30, 40, 50 years. Let them out, man.
NNAMDIGot it. Just about out of time. Full confession, Roach Brown is a friend and if you know Roach Brown you know he's just getting started. Roach, thank you so much for joining us. Roach Brown is the Chairman of the Coalition of the National Association of Ex-Offenders. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we will have that conversation about telemedicine. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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