Delbert Jackson, director of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, has ordered a special review committee to investigate the death Sunday of a 27-year-old Lorton Reformatory inmate in the face of inmates' allegations about improper medical treatment there.

The appointment of the special committee Tuseday came after mounting inmate concern about medical treatment available at Lorton, the District's prison in Virginia. Inmates there complained that Leon Buchanan was given a "shot of cold water" as treatment for an acute asthma attack.

D.O. Mayor-elect Marion Barry, who called Lorton "nothing but a ware-house," told a reorter that medical care there is "terrible and needs to be upgraded." Yesterday, Barry sent John Ray, a member of his transition team, to investigate Buchanan's death and to talk to prisoners about their concerns.

Buchanan was pronounced dead at DeWitt Army Hospital at Fort Belvoir at 9:07p.m., according to Jackson. Dr. James Beyer, Fairfax medical examiner, said the cause of death was an acute asthmatic attack.

Jackson said Buchanan, who had been convicted of receiving stolen goods and violation of the Bail Reform Act, was sentenced to two to six years. He entered Lorton July 17, 1977, and was less than a year away from beign eligible for parole, Jackson said.

According to Lorton inmates who spoke with a reporter, Buchanan had repeatedly asked for medical treatment more than 10 hours before medical tecnical assistants on the Lorton staff saw him. He was not seen by a physician, prison officials said, because there are no prison physicians at the infirmary on weekends or after 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Jackson told a reporter that "it is my understanding that (a doctor) was called, but I am not certain if he was called after the death (of Buchanan).

"The medical staff has denied vehemently giving sterilized water to Buchanan." Jackson said. "I don't believe it either. But if it did happen, it won't be tolerated in this facility."

In a memorandum to central facility administrator Salanda V. Whitfield dated Dec. 18, inmate Thomas Shepard, Buchanan's cellmate, told Whitfield that one medical technical assistant told another to give Buchanan sterilized water for treatment.

"Resident Shepard said (the assistant) made the statment that most of the time it is all in the minds of these residents (inmates) about these asthma attacks. Resident stated that (the assistant) said we (have) been giving sterlized water to them (inmates) all of the time," the memorandum read.

The Post obtained a copy of the memorandum. Whitfield acknowledged the existence of the memorandum and the conversation with Shepard yesterday, but would not comment on either pending results from the committee's investigation, due jan. 3.

One inmate, who asked not to be identified because he feared punitive action, said Buchanan had voluntarily placed himself in "the hold," a term used for isolation, the inmate said, the asthma attack started and medical attention was sought through a guard, but was refused.

"He passed out in the cell and a prisoner in there with him had to open up all the windows and walk him around," the inmate said.