THE HISTORY OF
THE DISTRICT OF COUMELA JAIL
The material presented in this paper is intended
only to provide the reader with a brief history of the de-
velopement of a Washington Institution about which the average
person has little information, The District Jail. The subject
matter deals with the f-rowth of the Jail from a log building,
built in 1778, to a large and modern penal institution. It
is sincerely hoped that the reader lias never in the past and will
never in the future become so interested in this establishment
that he make a lasting visit.
THE HISTORY OF
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA JAIL
One of the most interesting and perhaps one of the
least well known institutions in the District of Columbia is
the Jail. Formerly known as the "fashington Asylum and Jail,
it has passed through many stages before coming to its present
In 1788, the Federal Government provided a log build-
ing on the north side of C street, between John Marshal P3ace
and 6th *St. This was used for a dozen years, both by the
District and by Prince Georges County, Md, It was replaced
around 1800 by a three room brick building, which operated
under the authority of the old Levy Court. The records are
vague and fail to show whether this one continued to function
as a jail after the construction in Judiciary Square of the
first circuit court Jail of "Washington county. This Yfas in
1802. Eventually it became too small and in llaroh, 1839,
Congress appropriated ,p31,000 for a new jail of three stories,
erected at 4th and G Sts., N.W. This one was designed by
Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument and
the Treasury. The Jail was painted blue, and acquired the
name, "The Blue Jug." This served the expanding capital for
many years, all through the Civil War, and for several years
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During the War years there were several military
Prisons also; the Old Capitol Prison on the present site of
the Supreme Court Building, Forrest Hall Prison in Georgetown,
and Carroll Prison on the present Library of Congress site.
The "Blue Jug" was judged obsolete several years
after the war and plans were started for a bigger and better
jail. In 1872 Congress appropriated ;;300,000 for the con-
struction of the Jail at 19th and C Sts., Southeast, where
it still stands. Three years later $140,057 was set aside
for completion and perfection of the structure. This Jail
was originally intended to house 300 prisoners. Its cells
were 5' x C x 9^' and were to be occupied by one prisoner.
As the Jail population grew, 4.6 more cells were added at a
cost of vpl2,000 and several prisoners were put in the same
cell, even after this addition had been made.
The Jail that seemed modern in 1872 seems imposs-
ible to us today. There was no running water in the cells,
and there were no proper plumbing facilities. The prisoners
were fed from tin cans shoved through the liars of their cell
doors . Gradually improvements were made and in 1910 at a
cost of $37,000, modern plumbing was installed and changes
were made in the Women's Department.
Up to this time the jail had been in charge of a
warden, but in 1911, the office of Warden was abolished and
that of superintendent replaced it, the Superintendent to be
appointed by the Commissioners of the District of Columbia,
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The Jail was designated, a short while after the
Civil far, as the official execution place of the District.
Capital punishment was by hanging until 1926, when an electric
chair wpg installed. Death is still by that means. One of
the extremely undersirable features up to the present year was the
fact that electrocutions took nlace in the mess hall. Now, with
the advent of the remodeling of the jail, they will be held in
the Administration Building. This building is only one of the
additions, other wings having been added, and the inside almost
completely remodeled, although the old outside walls still stand.
Modern maximum security cell blocks, new medical quarters, dorm-
itories, and a women's department, have been built.
The Jails population is made up of men and women
awaiting trial, witnesses, persons held for immigration auth-
orities or for police of other jurisdictions, short term prisoners,
and those awaiting transfer to other institutions, and also for
those awaiting execution. 85% of the jail commitments are mis-
demeanants. About 64$ of the prisoners committed to the jail
were charged with intoxication. Eventually this situation may
be changed by the establishment of an institution for inebriates.
The total admissions for the fiscal year ending June
30, 194-1, was 18,556. The daily average population was 507-
465 were male and 51 female. The daily average cost per prisoner
was 92*8^, of which 19»4j^ or 21f, was spent for food, the rest
going for salaries and general maintainance costs.
Several years ago an Inmate Advisory Council was
established by means of which a council of prisoners considers
problems of the prisoners and recommends what action it con-
siders should be taken. Another fcrward looking feature is
the placing of social service internes in the jail.
The purpose of a progressive penal institution is
to protect society by teaching prisoners to be useful citizens
instead of repeaters,* and toward this end the staff of the
District Jail is continually working.
#The Prison Problem in the District of Columbia
a survey by "The Prison Industries Reorganization Administration. M
Statistics and other records of the District of Columbia Jail,