Federal Prisons and Isolated Confinement

DC Residents in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

Twenty-two years ago, Congress passed the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 (the "D.C. Revitalization Act").  Through this legislation, the federal government took over most of the District of Columbia’s criminal justice responsibilities.  Every District resident who is convicted of a felony serves his or her sentence in a federal prison. The President appoints the District’s judges and prosecutors.

In mid 2019, there were approximately 4600 District residents incarcerated in 122 different federal prisons around the country. DC residents are isolated from their family and community. Criminal justice research indicates that maintaining relationships with family and friends is a key variable for predicting recidivism.

Because most DC residents in prison are far from home, IAHR launched a pen pal outreach program in November 2017. 135 people in the Washington area have signed up to be a pen pal with a DC resident in the Bureau of Prisons. Click here to view a map of the different prisons we are in touch with through our pen pal program.

In order to become a pen pal, we ask volunteers to attend an orientation. Orientations are held periodically: sometimes as a webinar and sometimes in person.  At the orientation, you will receive guidelines that we ask our pen pals to follow as well as a name of an incarcerated person and some information about that person. If you would like to be a pen pal or would like some more information about the program, please click here.

While every DC resident who is convicted of a felony serves his or her sentence in a federal prison, DC residents awaiting trial or who have been convicted of a misdemeanor are held in the DC Jail, which is located in Southeast. IAHR is now looking into introducing a reporting bill at the DC Council that would mandate the DC Department of Corrections to provide information on how  solitary confinement is used in the DC Jail. IAHR plans to have more information on this by the fall of 2019.

Restoring Control of Parole to D.C.

IAHR is part of a coalition which believes it is time for the District government to reconsider whether the near-complete federalization of the system of criminal law enforcement in D.C. is still financially necessary, and to identify logical next steps in this process. One of the first steps for the District is to take back responsibility for the U.S. Parole Commission.

In addition to changes that led to the close of the Lorton Prison Complex, the 1997 D.C. Revitalization Act also abolished the D.C. Board of Parole, vesting decision-making authority in the federal U.S. Parole Commission (USPC) for grants of parole for D.C. prisoners and for revocations of parole and supervised release for released prisoners. In 1997, the total DC prisoner population was around 11,500 – 12,000 prisoners in the D.C. Jail and the Lorton Prison Complex. In 2018, there are approximately 6,743 D.C. prisoners, with 2,043 held in local jails and 4,700 in the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The USPC was most recently re-authorized by the U.S. Congress through November 2020. If no action is taken, the USPC could be extended for another five years, or longer, maintaining federal control of D.C. Parole.

The USPC’s caseload is almost entirely made up of D.C. parole matters, with federal parole much less than 20 percent of the USPC’s caseload.

The USPC has become a driver of mass incarceration in D.C. The decisions of the USPC have been far harsher than those of the former D.C. Board of Parole, with hundreds of D.C. prisoners denied parole under punitive parole decision-making practices and thousands of D.C. returning citizens returned to incarceration for violation of the USPC’s rules. There are currently approximately 4,700 D.C. prisoners housed in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). More than one-third of these prisoners are held for parole or supervised release violations (1,647). More than one-quarter of D.C. prisoners are serving sentences with parole eligibility (1,280).

The process for restoring local control of parole requires D.C. legislation to re-create a D.C. Board of Parole and federal legislative amendments to the D.C. Revitalization Act. It will also require new legislation reauthorizing the USPC for a limited interim transition period.

The FY2019 budget request for the USPC is $12.672 million. A D.C. Board of Parole budget would likely be significantly smaller, due to the exclusion of federal parole and more limited staffing requirements.

130 IAHR supporters are pen pals of DC residents in the Bureau of Prisons.  This issue affects our pen pals.  It is important that DC residents write Council Member Charles Allen who is the chairperson of the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. Please urge Council member Allen ad his Committee to come up with a plan to take back control of the U.S. Patrol Commission. 

 

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