Wayne Stotler, 19, is mentally retarded. He has an IQ of 54 and a history of setting fires in woods and fields. As he walked out of Fairfax County court on his way to jail in an arson case, he said to the deputy accompanying him:

"You didn't put handcuffs on me the last time. Could you put them on me now?"

Jail is the last place the Fairfax prosecutor's office wants to put Wayne Stotler, who officials say , is not the kind of person the criminal justice system can handle. But, according to various Fairfax officials, no mental institution wants to take the young man, -Southwestern State Hospital for the criminally insane at Marion says it won't take Stotler because it doesn't have facilities for the retarded. Western State Hospital at Staunton doesn't accept patients with criminal charges pending against them.

Fairfax officials said they have tried to place Stotlet at schools for the mentally retarded in Lynchburg and Fairfax but have been turned down because the youth, with his history of arson, is considered a potential danger. (The Northern Virginia Center for the mentally Retarded said there had been no request in writing, and Dr. Joseph Higgins, head of the admission committee, said he could recall no verbal request.)

"I've been looking for a place for Wayne since last May," Putzi Naveen, the county social worker assigned to his case, said, "and I haven't found one. Nobody says they have a program for retarded fire-setters."

The dilemman was spelled out by Eugene A! Bannemiller, a psychologist who is a consultant to the Fairfax jail: "There just aren't the institutions that meet the needs of people like this. They are relatively harmless, but put a match in their hands, and you've got yourself a problem."

Officials in Fairfax and Prince William counties where Stotler, according to investigators in both jurisdictions, has been accused of setting a total of 12 fires, feel they have exhausted their alternatives: groups homes, sheltered workshops, vocational rehabilation, outpatient mental health programs.

"If yoy've tried everything twice and its failed what do you do?" one official said.

Fairfax Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Randall M. Starrett is angry that no institution will admit Stotler, but he is worried too."I don't want him to burn down Fairfax County either."

Starrett's next step, he thinks, will be to ask a court to order state hospital or school for the mentally retarded to admit Stotler. He is considering asking the office of Gov. E. Godwin to intervene in the case.

While Starrett and other officials consider what to do next, Stotler sits, alone, in a cell of the Fairfax jail. "There isn't too much to do here," he says, flashing a grin that fills his thin, freckled face.

On his right arm is a bandage, the result, he said of a cut he received when he pushed out a window in the basement of his sister's house Tuesday and ran away, shoeless.

Under an arrangement With Prince William County officials, Stotler was to be kept in his sister's house in Dumfrise until the county decided what to do with him. He had been picked up by Prince William fire investigators on suspecion of setting brush fires in the area April 14, 16 and last Monday.

Investigators said they initially decided not to formally arrest him because he was retarded.

Not long after Stotler fled his sister's house Tuesday, his father found him in the Dumfries area and kept him overnight at a motel until he could be taken to Fairfax.

Prince William officials decided to do that, rather than prosecute him, in the hope that Fairfax could find an stitution in which to place him.

Fairfax officials decided to reactivate an old warrant for arson-it had been shelved last May so Stotler would be eligible for treatment in an institution other than a prison. But such an institution never was found. His "temporary" placement at his sister's in Dumfries continued until earlier this week.

I've been working with Wayne for a year and a half," social worker Naveen says. "We've given him the best we have."

While staying at his sister's, Stotler learned repair and refinish old furniture at a state-sponsored vocational workshop in Prince Willian County. He was also attending a mental-health program. "Up until a week ago," Naveen said, "he was doing well in both programs."

But Naveen thinks Stotler needed much nore. "He needs a structured program," she said. "The programs he was in, the ones we have in the county, are not for (him). You have to get in a bus and go from one palce to another,"

Stotler's court-appointed attorney, Daniel E. Krisky says all medical evaluations have shown that Stotler is retarded. But he cites one evaluation, by a medical doctor, that says, "It is felt Wayne has the potential to make progress intellectually and emotionally."

To make such progress, Krisky said, Stotler needs to spend sone extended period to time in an institution. One medical evaluation, the attorney said, suggested placement "out of the home in a residential setting which can provide special education, training, psychiatric treatment for depression."

The prosecutor's office, fire investigators, social services, the defense attorney-they all agree that incarceration is no answer, though they fear that could be the only option left to them if not institution will accept Stotler.

"He wouldn't last a day in prison he'd be raped that quickly," one official said.

While they pondered Stotler's case yesterday, fairfax officially found they were confronted with a startlingly similar one.This one involved a 23-year-old retarded man, arrested for setting fire to a house trailer belonging to a relative.

Because they had no alternative, Fairfax officials put him in jail. In his cell the young man sobbed like a little boy. Jail officials did what they could. They gave him some valium.