No New Jails for D.C.

Mayor Bowser

Washington D.C. wants to spend over $700 million to build a new jail, while the city’s poor and marginalized residents are increasingly struggling.

We demand no new jails in D.C.

Can you imagine a world where we are all safe and free? Where our communities have the resources they need to thrive? Can you imagine a world without jails? We can. And we’re building on the long history of resistance in D.C.


In the early 1970s, D.C. announced a plan to expand a women’s jail to deal with the issue of “overcrowding”. In March 1972, six women’s rights group opposed the expansion.1 On October 11, 1972, over 100 incarcerated people took over the D.C. jail, rejecting better jail conditions and demanding the release of all incarcerated people.2 They protested,

“We’re treated like animals, and we want out.”

“We don’t want nothing but the sidewalk. What do you think we want, better food? Bullshit. We want the sidewalk, man.”

“We’re dead now, we’re better dying out there than in here. We don’t give a shit.” 3

In 1973, there were at least five large scale sit-ins, rebellions, and protests in D.C. jails. On April 9 of that year, women in D.C. Detention Center staged a sit-in protest, demanding medical treatment for all incarcerated people; replacement of the center’s physician, Dr. Samuel Bullock, for prescribing methadone to pregnant women; extended work release and furlough programs; and legal representation at all disciplinary hearings within the center.

On April 18 and 19, 1973 they staged a sit-down strike, demanding increased visiting time and conditions with their families and children and protesting slave-labor and lack of job training.4 On August 11, 1973, 120 incarcerated people in D.C. correctional center engaged in a five-hour sit in, complaining of lack of recreation and shower facilities and asking for permission to make social telephone calls.5 These protests continued into 1975 and 1976.6

Despite the number of protests, lawsuits, and community uproar, in 1976, D.C. officials built our current jail in response to the same inhumane and violent conditions that exist in the jail today. This is a pattern. New jails do not increase the health and safety of Black people.


As the federal capital of a nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world, it’s no coincidence that the rate of incarceration in D.C. is actually the highest in the world: 1,153 people per 100,000 people.7

The carceral system is targeting Black people; 89% of people in D.C. jails are Black. Jails destroy Black communities and produce generational trauma without addressing the root causes of incarceration. But communities are clear, jails don’t bring us housing, healthcare, recreation, jobs, or education. The D.C. Justice and Jails committee just released a damning report confirming just that.

Despite a majority of respondents believing a jail does not keep D.C. safe and 70% of respondents believing incarceration is not the best way to handle people who get arrested, the D.C. government is still trying to move forward with a new jail.8

Respondents supported community investments in housing, mental wellness, youth programming and basic needs, jobs, and alternatives to police, with a preference of intervention and prevention over incarceration. We agree with our neighbors and fellow community members, and we demand community investments over the construction of a new jail.


We understand that the current jail conditions are inhumane. This is why we must focus on decarceration, such as local control of parole, efforts rather than trying to make a new “better” jail . A new jail is still a jail.

Black women, girls, trans and gender non-conforming folks are increasingly being incarcerated. Currently, only 18% of people in D.C.’s women’s jail have been sentenced, while the remaining 72% of the population is either being held without being convicted or sentenced or has a simple “parole violation”.9 No one should be in cages for this and there is a pathway to reduce the number of incarcerated people in D.C.

We demand no new jails, freedom for incarcerated people, and a new collective approach to safety that truly reduces violence and increases resources in our communities.

There once was a time when people couldn’t envision a world without slavery. Join us in imagining a world without jails and prisons and where all Black people can thrive. Sign the petition to tell D.C. government to stop building cages and prioritize investments in the health, safety, and well being of Black people in D.C..


  1. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Mar 30, 1972; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post

  2. D.C. Jail Inmates Hold 9 Guards and Hardy.” Evening Star, October 11, 1972.

  3. Claiborne, William L. “They Led Me Into a Hall, Saying, ‘Don’t Hurt Him’: Reporter Acted as Go-Between For Prisoners, D.C. Officials.” The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Washington, D.C. October 12, 1972.

  4. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Apr 19, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post

  5. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Aug 11, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post

  6. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Apr 20, 1975; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post

  7. District of Columbia Profile. Prison Policy Initiative. 2018.  

  8. Jails & Justice: A Framework for Change. Phase I Findings and Recommendations. District Task Force on Jails & Justice. October 2019.

  9. D.C.’s Justice Systems: An Overview. Public Welfare. October 2019.

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To: Mayor Bowser
From: [Your Name]

I'm writing to urge the D.C. government to stop any plans for building a new jail and invest resources in the health and well-being of currently and formerly incarcerated communities. Every human being deserves access to healthcare, education, transportation, job security, and more. Investing resources into our communities keeps us safe, not building more jails. I urge you to not build a new jail in D.C.