A forbidding, five-story fortress of a building at 1901 D St. SE, the jail and several related facilities hold in excess of 2,000 inmates, some awaiting trial, some awaiting transfer to federal prison after sentencing, some awaiting transfer to the street after serving their time.
“We’re not a prison system,” said Faust, 59, the former three-term sheriff of Arlington County. “We’re a jail system.”
The distinction is vital to understanding how Faust has changed the Department of Corrections.
“We are talking about people who are coming back to the community,” Faust said, pointing out that the D.C. jail processed almost 15,000 people last year — the average stay was just 27 days. “We’re not a prison where we can afford to have somebody in a year-long program.”
And yet those relatively short stays do not, in his mind, diminish the gravity of his responsibility. “One of the greatest powers that government has is taking someone’s freedom from them,” he said.
Faust has spent most of his career working with short-timers.
An Arlington native, Faust graduated from Virginia Tech and went to work for the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office. Starting his tenure on the floor of the jail, he stayed for 24 years, serving three terms as Arlington’s sheriff.
“A person’s punishment is being sent to jail,” he told The Washington Post in 1991, shortly before winning office for the first time. “It’s not for me to punish them further once they’re there.”
After a stint as executive director and chief operating officer of the National Sheriffs’ Association and as a vice president at Aramark, a private company that provides food service to correctional institutions, he was appointed as the District’s director of corrections by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) in 2011.
Faust inherited a system with a long history of class-action lawsuits, violence, overcrowding and suicides. There was also tension with the Fraternal Order of Police’s D.C. Corrections Union, representing corrections officers. They haven’t had a new contract since 2005.
Although Faust’s predecessor, Devon Brown, has been compared to the reform-minded former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, union leaders were critical of his lack of transparency.
Faust set out to build better relations with the union, visiting the jail on average once a week. He expects a new contract soon.
“We’ve been able to accomplish together in 12 months what hasn’t been done in seven years,” he said. “I’m very proud of that.”
John Rosser, chairman of the corrections union, said Faust has been fully transparent. “Mr. Faust does not approach corrections in that arrogant way,” he said. “Even if he disagrees, he listens. He communicates. He’s accessible.”