WASHINGTON — Justice reform advocates, including Color Of Change, Life After Release, and the NAACP, held a virtual press conference Monday morning to address the continuing crisis around the COVID-19 pandemic at Prince George's County Detention Center.
The press conference came ahead of a federal court hearing Monday afternoon. A judge is expected to rule on a lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates against the jail, citing, among other items, the following:
- Poor conditions
- Lack of medical assistance
- Testing during the COVID-19 crisis
Man Describes Poor Conditions
Michael Montgomery detailed his experience at the jail after he was released one month earlier. He said he was in the jail since late March (about the 24th or 25th).
"I contracted COVID-19 in the jail," Montgomery detailed, saying he got the illness from his cellmate.
His cellmate was taken for medical attention three times, and about 72 hours after his cellmate’s last visit, Montgomery said he started to display symptoms of the illness. He said he repeatedly informed the nurses and officers, but nothing was done.
"They never informed us of COVID-19, or the precautions to take to prevent it," Montgomery said.
Montgomery said he was tested and came back positive for COVID-19 and was moved to what was supposed to be an isolated medical cell. Instead, the cells were infested with feces on the wall, urine, old food, bugs and mold. He said cleaning supplies were not given despite asking for them.
He was then moved to another room and quarantined with at least eight other people in the jail, who had also presumably tested positive for COVID-19, he said.
He said he was in that location for 10 days with poor conditions.
"We haven't had showers in over nine days," Montgomery said, describing the conditions in the isolated unit.
He also said no phone calls were allowed, and that they didn't see officers, "unless you get food or your temperature taken."
"(They) fed you like you were an animal," Montgomery said. "You would not be treated like a human being. You're treated like an animal. If you're not a strong person, you’ll lose your mind."
Montgomery was eventually released when Prince George’s County Life After Release program posted his $500 bail.
While he was incarcerated, Montgomery lost his employment, his vehicle and his housing, but the Life After Release program was able to help get him back on his feet.
Advocates seek to change conditions
Civil Rights Corps senior attorney Katie Chamblee-Ryan, who filed the lawsuit against the detention center, said Monday’s court hearing will determine whether more relief is needed as "another wave of this disease is coming and the jail needs to prepare."
Qiana Johnson, with Prince George’s County Life After Release and a core organizer with Black Lives Matter D.C., worked to release Montgomery and others. She described that Prince George's County operates on a money-bail system despite saying it doesn’t.
Advocates for Montgomery and others are calling on county officials, specifically Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, to release people inside the detention center because of the poor conditions, and the COVID-19 outbreak are tantamount to a potential "death sentence" for people with presumptive innocence who are simply stuck based on their inability to meet monetary bail requirements.
A federal court hearing took place Monday afternoon to hear more evidence in the case.
Prince George's County DOC response
"On June 22, Judge Paula Xinis declined to extend her Temporary Restraining Order on the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections. She ruled that the Department of Corrections' plan to address the treatment of detainees during this pandemic is reasonable. She also expressed pleasure with the execution of the plan to universally test all inmates and employees.
"The Department completed universal testing for COVID-19 by offering the test to everyone in its custody as soon as tests became available on May 21. There have been seven positive cases out of the 662 tests. This is a one percent positivity rate. All of these individuals were asymptomatic.
"With the exception of one individual, all have completed quarantine and returned to general population. We are continuously testing newly committed inmates. Every on-site employee completed mandatory testing last week. There were two positive cases out of 448 employees. Both of these officers have minimal contact with detainees in their regular duties.
"The Department has identified how the virus could potentially enter the facility and reduced its probability by universally testing employees and new inmates. The Department of Corrections is currently developing a plan to periodically retest detainees, ensuring the safety of everyone in custody.
"The low positivity rate is a result of the jail consistently heeding to the recommendations and guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Prince George’s County Health Department.
"A court appointed health inspector, Dr. Carlos Franco-Paredes, visited the facility for an inspection on May 7 and 8 before submitting a detailed report of his findings to the court. He wrote that the facility implemented mitigating interventions, according to CDC guidelines, including halting all group activities, staggering recreation time, limiting the number of people out of their cells at the same time, providing inmates with masks, isolating sick inmates, making cleaning supplies available and providing education materials regarding COVID-19 to inmates. His report confirmed that there was no evidence of unsanitary medical isolation rooms inside the facility."