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Lawsuit Says BOP Rules Biased Against Black D.C. Defendants

Black prisoners sentenced in Washington, D.C., face harsher prison conditions than whites with similar criminal histories sentenced in federal court, charges a federal class-action lawsuit filed by public defenders. The suit said D.C. prisoners, more than 95 percent of whom are Black, must battle violence, restrictive conditions and a lack of programming in prison that those sentenced in the city’s other courts do not because of the way the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) makes security classifications, the Washington Post reports. The suit seeks to end alleged disparities that have arisen since D.C. lost its local prison decades ago, sending defendants from two different courts with different demographics to the same system. With the closure of Lorton Prison in 2001, prisoners from both the local D.C. court and the federal court have been sent to federal institutions around the U.S. Federal defendants get a security classification under national sentencing guidelines, while local defendants are classified according to an “arbitrary and unequal” Bureau of Prisons system that often puts them in higher-security prisons, the suit charged. Black prisoners bear the brunt of this disparity, the suit said. More than 95 percent of Superior Court defendants who go into BOP custody are Black, while only 38 percent of the overall federal prison population is. The BOP criminal history score is used to determine whether prisoners go to a high-, medium- or low-security facility, and also whether they are eligible to be released to home confinement.

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