‘Why Did He Have to Live in Those Conditions?': Family Speaks After DC Inmate Dies Amid Heat Concerns

A local family is demanding answers after a D.C. jail inmate died as officials struggle to cool the sweltering facility.

Lester Irby, 70, died after he collapsed Thursday inside the D.C. Central Detention Facility, Department of Corrections (DOC), officials said.

Inmates told News4 that temperatures inside the building that houses more than 1,200 people hit the 90s amid a heat wave, and a lawyer who monitors conditions there said Irby's death is a reminder of poor conditions inside.

But the DOC said Irby appears to have died of natural causes. "We have no reason to believe that there is a correlation between elevated temperatures and the recent death of an inmate," spokeswoman Sylvia Lane said in a statement.

Irby's daughter Felicia Haigler said she wants more information.

"I really would like to find out, why did he have to live in those conditions?" she said. 

Irby was a published author with a "heart of gold," Haigler said. A story of his was included in the popular 2005 book D.C. Noir, a collection of stories "detailing the seedy underside of the nation's capital," edited by mystery author George Pelecanos.


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Irby was a prolific, inspired writer who could not make a go of it outside jail walls, his daughter said. He repeatedly was imprisoned in jails and prisons across the country, she said.

Haigler called for changes at the jail.

"Where do our tax money go to? I thought it was going to help people. They're not doing anything over there to better these people who are getting incarcerated," she said.

Her family is considering hiring an attorney.

As inmates continue to report high temperatures, a contractor is working at the jail to improve airflow and circulation systems, the DOC spokeswoman said.

In recent days, the jail has set up large industrial fans, offered inmates shaved ice and cool drinks, let inmates take additional showers, and provided accommodations for inmates with special needs, officials said.

DOC officials did not respond to a request by News4 to enter the facility and see the conditions first-hand.

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