people every year from DC are incarcerated in prison or jail, or being supervised on probation, parole, or supervised release.
100 +
people have a publicly-available arrest or a conviction record.
0 +

Over 10,000 people every year from DC are incarcerated in prison or jail, or being supervised on probation, parole, or supervised release. More than 68,000 people have a publicly-available arrest or a conviction record — a figure so large, a truly representative DC Council would have at-least two members with records.  Research shows that being involved in the justice system leads to higher rates of recidivism, worse health outcomes, and lifelong challenges around housing and employment.

DC faces unique challenges due to the absence of full local control over its justice system, leading to a more severe system of punishment.

Along with one's sentence, someone incarcerated will experience:

Terrible conditions

If you are incarcerated, it starts with being in DC jails that deliver food that is inedible, moldy, vermin-infested, has a health care system that has been described as “systemically dysfunctional,”  solitary confinement and  dangerous conditions.

Exile from your home

Because DC does not have its own prison and are incarcerated in the federal system, most people are forced to be far from their home for most or all of their sentence, in facilities that are hundreds of miles  from the District.

Barriers to reintegration

There is no halfway house for men in DC.   Organizations that help plan for someone’s reentry face challenges getting information on when individuals may return home,  making reintegration much more difficult. Then a person faces laws, policies, and practices that prevent them from getting a job and housing, and face one of the most restrictive sets of policies in the country to get rid of their record.

All of these negative impacts on the individuals who are incarcerated or who are saddled with criminal records decrease safety.


This system of punishment almost exclusively impacts DC’s Black community: 90 percent of people in the DC jail are Black. 


Roadmaps have been developed by experts and residents to change this picture.  The District Task Force on Jails and Justice surveyed residents, and developed a series of recommendations that over time would bring most people punished under the system home, shrink the system, and provide robust services to help someone return to the community after being incarcerated. As of 2023, only 2 percent of these policies have been enacted or implemented.

In this section, the DC Justice Lab highlights solutions to the system of punishment that would increase safety and well-being for everyone, and that are ready for legislative change. Learn more in this section about:


Sex Registries

Registries increase homelessness and joblessness and don’t increase safety.

Earned Compliance Credits

Giving more rewards than sanctions achieves the best results for people under supervision.

Probation Caps


Criminal Record Sealing and Expungement

Arrest and conviction records are lifetime barriers to employment and housing.

Food in the DC Jails


Criminal Record Discrimination

People with criminal records lack core protections from the systemic discrimination they face.

Solitary Confinement and the Unlock The Box Campaign

End torture in DC.


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