Dominique Davis has spent the last eight months in the D.C. Jail—the site of a large coronavirus outbreak in the spring—despite not being charged with a crime.
Davis was arrested in February on assault charges,
but the U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the case. But because Davis had been on
parole when he was arrested, the U.S. Parole Commission still issued a warrant
for his arrest. Now, according to a lawsuit filed by the Public Defender
Service in October, Davis is languishing in a legal limbo, reported dcist/WAMU. Because the pandemic
has halted normal hearings, he is still waiting for the day when the commission
will decide whether it will revoke his parole.
A spokesperson for the Parole Commission says the
agency cannot comment on matters related to pending litigation, and added that
in addition to criminal charges, someone on parole may remain in jail because
they have a history of failing to report for supervision. But attorneys with
the Public Defender Service say Davis’s situation is far too common during the
As of September, public defenders say they were
representing 45 people who are in similar situations. They say these clients
remain in jail even though their charges have been dismissed, they have been
determined eligible for release by a judge, or they have been “no-papered,”
which means prosecutors didn’t charge them with the crime they were arrested
Before the pandemic, parole violations were a
significant driver of incarceration in D.C, representing more than 14% of men
and 8% of women in D.C.’s jails in April. Since March, though, the number of people held
for violations has fallen by half. The U.S. Parole Commission says this is
because it has been more carefully weighing the risks associated with jail time
during the pandemic.
But defense attorneys say the reduction isn’t nearly
enough. They say some of their clients are still being jailed over relatively
minor parole violations, which the Parole Commission previously said it would
limit. Further, they say the pandemic has brought legal delays that are keeping
dozens of people in jail even after the charges brought against them have been
dismissed, or a judge recommended they be released.
“Because of the pandemic, this group of people has
been stuck at the DC jail, with no opportunity to challenge their
imprisonment,” writes Rashida Edmondson, Acting Chief of the Parole Division of
the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, in an email to
DCist/WAMU. “There is no bail or bond that they can pay, and the [U.S. Parole]
Commission’s refusal to release them effectively overrides the Court’s decision
to either dispose of the case altogether, or to release the person while
Parole can be revoked if a parolee commits a crime,
or if they commit a technical violation. These include things like missing
appointments with parole officers, not showing up to work or treatment
programs, or not submitting a drug test on time. When an officer decides that a
violation warrants notifying the U.S. Parole Commission, the Commission can bring
the parolee into custody while it determines whether they will be released,
lose their parole, or have their sentence extended.
According to data from CSOSA—the agency that
supervises D.C. residents on probation and parole—most people do not ultimately
end up having their parole revoked, but many await that decision while locked
up. A recent report from The Prison Policy Initiative, a
research group that advocates against mass incarceration, found that for people
in the D.C. Jail whose most serious alleged offense was a parole violation, the
average length of stay is nearly four months. Andrea Fenster, who authored the
report, says this “could in some cases actually outlast even full
misdemeanor sentences.” The report also found that in 2019, 40% of parole
violations in D.C. deemed serious enough to notify the U.S. Parole Commission
were due to missed appointments or other technical violations.
“Incarceration comes with this extreme loss of
liberty, privacy and self-determination,” says Fenster. “Technical violations
take all of that away for completely, entirely non-criminal behavior—things
that don’t result in jail time for other people, like having irregular work or
missing an appointment.”
When the coronavirus started spreading in the D.C.
region, advocates called for the Parole Commission to reconsider its decisions
to incarcerate people for parole violations. In particular, they asked the
commission to reconsider jailing people for technical violations, because of
risk that the coronavirus poses in jails and prisons.
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