D.C. Jail
D.C. Jail Credit: Darrow Montgomery

D.C.’s jail has been on lockdown since Monday as staff conducts searches for contraband, D.C. Department of Corrections Director Quincy Booth announced during a Council oversight hearing yesterday. He said this type of inspection is routine, but the effects it has on incarcerated persons—restricting visitation and outdoor activity—has upset many community members, prompting them to contact government officials.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen has been on the receiving end of these calls. After being inundated with questions and concerns from D.C. residents around a possible lockdown, Allen asked Booth for more information during Thursday’s Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety performance oversight hearing. 

“We have quarterly inspections that we do of the whole facility and they are never announced,” Booth told Allen, who chairs the judiciary committee. “So as I mentioned to you probably a couple of years ago around contraband intervention, this is the best and promising practice—to do an inspection of the whole facility to ensure that we don’t have things that don’t belong inside the facility. So oftentimes, the community is not happy and I understand, but the reality is it’s not good practice to make an announcement in advance.” 

Allen asked whether this can even be called a lockdown if it’s part of DOC’s “routine security” and not prompted by an incident. Maybe then, Allen’s thinking went, people wouldn’t be up in arms about the lockdown.

“When people hear lockdown, it’s generally connected to something negative. But in this case, we are ensuring that the environment stays safe,” replied Booth. “At the end of the day, what people have reservations around is people have restrictive and limited movement compared to what they normally have.” 

When these inspections do occur, the jail is on a lockdown, for all intents and purposes. Family members are not able to visit loved ones that are incarcerated during this time and partnerships with universities are temporarily suspended. These inspections generally don’t last longer than a week, explained Booth, but they occur as frequently as DOC sees fit. 

On Friday, Black Lives Matter D.C. tweeted “URGENT CALL TO ACTION!!” The group asked its 26,000 followers on Twitter to contact Mayor Muriel Bowser, along with other government officials, and ask them to end the lockdown. According to a screenshot of the visitation calendar shared on Twitter, families are unable to book visits until next week.