DC Halfway House Lawsuit Results in Successful Emergency Release of Prisoners
Bureau of Prisons Expects Majority of Hope Village Prisoners to be Placed in Home Confinement
WASHINGTON – In response to litigation challenging the facility’s dangerous coronavirus response and conditions, a lawyer for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) told a federal judge today that approximately 85% of the 120 men who have been locked in crowded conditions in Hope Village will be sent to home confinement in the next several days.
Of the approximately 20 or so men who will not approve for home confinement, the BOP has stated that none will be sent to prison. Most will be sent to other halfway houses, and some will reach their release dates in the next several days. This federal class action lawsuit brought on April 2 by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the ACLU of the District of Columbia, and the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP challenged the danger to prisoners, staff and the public created by unnecessarily locking more than 200 men in close quarters at Hope Village, where they were unable to take the basic precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and even the BOP itself.
Men slept in rooms with bunk beds three to four feet apart, ate in a crowded dining area, and had no on-site medical care, and lacked the meaningful capacity to physically distance from one another. Moreover, staff entered and left the facility every day without screening. Since the filing of the suit, Hope Village has announced it will close its doors, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons has steadily downsized the population confined there, in significant part by approving individuals for home confinement.
“The risk to the men confined to Hope Village, the staff and to the community by the unnecessary lockdown and dangerous condition was completely unnecessary,” says Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “The steps being taken now should have been taken weeks ago. We are relieved that we have, so far, avoided tragedy.”
Men confined to Hope Village are the lowest-security prisoners. Prior to March 20, they went into the community on a daily basis to work, seek medical care and visit family. All are within weeks or months of release, and most have a family and home to go to. Although many of these men were eligible for home confinement, few were approved prior to the lawsuit—a failure that the lawsuit alleged placed the lives of residents, staff, and community members at risk.
“We are pleased that the BOP has now committed to sending these men home, where they can better protect themselves and comply with social distance orders,” said Kevin Metz, partner at Latham & Watkins. “We appreciate the Court’s involvement and monitoring of the situation.”
“We renew our call to Mayor Bowser to secure safe and free housing or hotel rooms here in the District for the remaining 20 individuals who lack home confinement as an option when Hope Village closes,” said Monica Hopkins, Executive Director, ACLU of the District of Columbia. “We’ve seen that the lack of a cohesive federal stay-at-home guidance has led to a patchwork of polices in the states, with some reopening for business far earlier than public health officials advise. Sending District residents to halfway houses out of state could very well be putting them in harm’s way. Keeping D.C. residents in D.C. will help ensure successful reentry and transition to post-incarceration life.”
You can view a copy of the complaint here:
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The Latest in Smart Justice
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Smart Justice
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.