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Problems at D.C. Jail Were Ignored Until Jan. 6 Defendants Came Along

Within days, the U.S. Marshals Service, which oversees federal detainees, opened an inquiry into the jail and soon determined, among other things, that there were sewage and water leaks inside and that corrections officers often antagonized their charges, sometimes withholding food and water for “punitive reasons.”

The most serious problems, the marshals found, were in an older part of the jail complex called the Central Detention Facility, not in the Correctional Treatment Facility, where all of the Jan. 6 defendants are held.

After a report by the marshals was released, complaints by the riot inmates, if anything, got louder. In late October, a “cry for help” by one of the defendants, Nathan DeGrave, was released on Twitter. It referred to the D.C. jail as “Gitmo” and accused jail officials of subjecting the “Jan 6ers” to “psychological and mental abuse.”

One week later, Ms. Greene went to the jail and met with the defendants, later noting that they gather every night before retiring to bed to sing the national anthem. After her inspection, Ms. Greene appeared on a podcast hosted by the former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon and declared that conditions in the jail were far worse than those facing homeless people or terrorists.

Amid these expressions of outrage, it was never mentioned that the jail had been plagued with problems long before the Jan. 6 defendants got there. Six years ago, for instance, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs issued a report calling the conditions at the jail “appalling.” The troubles have been so persistent that this year, a local task force released a plan to close the facility and replace it with a new one.

Activists in Washington who have dedicated years to solving problems at the jail seemed grateful, in a sense, that the issue was finally getting the attention it deserved. But some expressed concern that officials who appeared at the public hearing, which took place on Wednesday, were feigning ignorance about the longstanding predicament.

Patrice Sulton, the executive director of the DC Justice Lab, an organization that advocates criminal justice reform, said she was particularly frustrated that it took complaints from the recently arrived Jan. 6 defendants, most of whom are white, to get the authorities to focus on the plight of detainees at the jail, almost all of whom are Black.

“It just doesn’t sit well,” Ms. Sulton said.

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