A 28-year-old journeyman roofer was mistakenly held in Washington, D.C.’s jail for more than two months after a misdemeanor charge against him was dismissed. He was freed only after another inmate flagged his own lawyer to the problem, reports the Washington Post. After being arrested in a dispute at his home, Carlton Harris was trapped in a jail bureaucracy that since 2005 has cost D.C. taxpayers more than $18 million paid to settle lawsuits on behalf of thousands of inmates held past their release dates or wrongly strip-searched. Harris, a father of two, was arrested March 28. Prosecutors dropped the case the next day but Harris was jailed for 77 days without a chance to see a judge or be granted a defense attorney. He finally went to court on June 15, after the other inmate’s lawyer alerted federal defenders, who brought Harris to the attention of court officials.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which transports prisoners to and from court, investigated the handling of Harris after the Post asked about his extended jail stay. Marshals were told Harris was being held on a pending case even though the matter had been dropped. “It was a clerical error by the D.C. Department of Corrections,” said a law enforcement official. A few weeks before Harris’s arrest, the District’s lawyers admitted in a federal lawsuit that the jail had detained Gregory Smith for 23 days longer that it should have. The city this fall is set to start paying $6 million awarded in a 2013 overdetention settlement, reached after federal judge Royce Lamberth blasted the city’s failure to deliver on promised reforms as “conscience-shocking.” A new class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners alleges the government is hiding the extent of errors, citing recent overdetentions such as Harris’s. D.C.’s lawyers say the system has heeded past calls for improvements and dramatically cut down on mistakes.