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D.C. Jail Conditions Unchanged Despite Law

Williams Administration Criticized on Compliance

By Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page C01

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the Department of Corrections have failed to comply with a 14-month-old law negotiated with the D.C. Council to improve conditions and operations at the District's main jail after the stabbing deaths of two detainees and other inmate violence.

Most notably, Williams (D) has not established a jail population cap to ease crowding. The law requires him to adopt a cap based on the number provided by an outside consultant. The consultant recommended a ceiling of 2,164 a year ago, but since then, the jail's average monthly population has exceeded that figure by about 100 and one month reached 2,379, records show.

The Corrections Department also failed to submit required quarterly reports to the council on such matters as jail environmental problems and inmate grievances. The agency submitted such reports for the first quarter of 2005 but none last year.

The department has not provided Williams with a plan for achieving national accreditation for the jail, although according to the law, the mayor was supposed to forward such a plan to the council by the end of last summer. And while the statute requires the D.C. Department of Health to conduct environmental inspections of the jail at least three times a year, only one has taken place since the law went into effect Jan. 30, 2004.

Corrections watchdogs and council members said that the Williams administration's lack of compliance is irresponsible and that letters of complaint they sent to the mayor have gone unanswered.

"The response to the law, which was passed with a sense of urgency, has been abysmal," said Philip Fornaci, executive director of the D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project. "The main thrust of the bill was to reduce overcrowding at the jail, but the mayor has refused to comply."

The deputy mayor for public safety and justice, Edward D. Reiskin, acknowledged that the executive branch has been remiss in meeting the requirements of the statute.

"We have been a little bit delinquent following up on this law," said Reiskin, who has been deputy mayor since January. "The law is clear that we need to use the [consultant's] number. . . . There is not a good excuse for taking 14 months to do it. I'm not going to defend it."

But Reiskin said the jail cap is difficult to address because the courts ultimately control the flow of inmates. About two-thirds of the people held at the facility are pretrial defendants.

Furthermore, he said, the jail has to accommodate inmates awaiting transfer to federal prisons. Reiskin said the District has been working with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reduce the time between defendants' sentencing and their transfer. The jail receives payments of about $83 a day for each of those inmates.

Reiskin said that if the administration is unable to bring the jail's population into compliance with the law by the end of this year, the District will explore such options as "better use of halfway houses, opening new ones and reopening old ones."

The jail was subject to a court-ordered population cap of 1,674 inmates until June 2002, when a federal judge lifted the 17-year-old limit. In December 2002, after the jail population rose significantly, three stabbings over a four-day stretch left two detainees dead and another inmate wounded.

After the stabbings, council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), then chairman of the Judiciary Committee, moved to establish a new population cap out of concern that crowding was responsible for the increase in violence. The council and mayor then negotiated the current law. And the Corrections Department, in consultation with the council, selected Pulitzer/Bogard & Associates to conduct the study.

Soon after the firm released its report, however, Patterson wrote to Williams that the study's principal author, David Bogard, had told her he did not know that the number recommended by his company would become the legal limit on the jail's capacity.

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