A Washington federal jury this week found that inmates were unconstitutionally overdetained at the D.C. Jail between 2007 and 2008, but that the District of Columbia government wasn't liable because they didn't find evidence of "deliberate indifference" to the inmates' rights.
In a class action first brought against the city in 2006, inmates at the D.C. Jail claimed officials had a practice of failing to release individuals on the date that their prison time expired and also of conducting blanket strip or visual cavity searches of inmates who were supposed to be released but were returned to the jail for processing.
Despite this week's loss, the plaintiffs had already won on some of their claims in the years leading up to trial. U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth granted the plaintiffs summary judgment on claims related to the strip searches and on the city's liability for overdetentions from 2005 to 2006. Lamberth granted the city summary judgment on claims of overdetentions from 2008 to the present.
The trial began on March 1 and the jury began deliberations on the afternoon of March 8. According to the verdict formverdict form entered on March 11, the jury found that from 2007 to 2008, the city did have a practice of overdetaining prisoners and also that actions taken by city officials were the "proximate cause" of those overdetentions.
However, the jurors didn't find evidence that officials were deliberately indifferent to the inmates' constitutional rights. Without that third element, the jury had to find in the city's favor.
Thomas Faust, the director of the city's Department of Corrections, said in a statement today that the department "is very gratified with the outcome of this case which acknowledges the progress made by the Department in eliminating the historical over-detention of inmates.”
A lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Williams Claiborne III of the Law Office of William Claiborne III in Washington, could not immediately be reached for comment today.
The case, Barnes v. D.C., wasn't the first time that the city faced litigation over overdetentions. In early 2006, Lamberth approved a $12 million settlement in a class action over overdetentions and strip searches between 2002 and 2005.