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David Morton’s article “Eating Disorder” (6/4) describes the dangerous conditions under which correctional officers and inmates live and work at the D.C. Jail. Although the facility has been under the watchful eye of local activists, the media, courts, justice and human-rights-monitoring organizations, and the U.S. Department of Justice for some time, it appears that minimal improvements have been made. It is also predictable that, in the foreseeable future, the pace of change will be slow. More than likely, this is not because of the organizational culture or administrative foot-dragging, but it is essentially because of the unfunded or poorly funded mandate in which improvements are asked to be made.
Unfortunately, the article does not point to any recommendations that would act as catalysts for speeding up the process of change. These might include resolutions (backed up by sanctions) passed by international bodies such as the Council of Europe or the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Or, as in the case of the city’s department of probation and parole, the jail might be federalized. Hopefully, this would at least temporarily improve the level of safety and services. It must also be noted that the problems with the D.C. Jail are not unique. Most jails in the United States are out of date, have declining infrastructures, and are unsafe and unsanitary. These factors combined contribute to the national crisis in corrections. Perhaps the recent revelations of abuse which took place in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison will force Americans to demand more accountability, along with institutional and programmatic changes, not only in the foreign detention centers they operate but also in those at home.
Division of Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Social Policy
University of Baltimore