D.C. Corrections Director Delbert C. Jackson said yesterday that negligence on the part of three corrections officers probably contributed to last month's escape by four prisoners from the D.C. Jail.
Jackson said yesterday that an internal department report has concluded that "there very likely was some negligence . . . Neglect by corrections officers may have played a role" in the May 18 jailbreak.
Jackson said the report, which he declined to release to the public, has been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury investigating the escape.
The bizarre, movieland excape occurred shortly after 10 p.m., when four inmates cut through one of three horizontal bars and one vertival bar running across the window of a cell in the jail's northwest wing.
Shinnying down a makeshift, 80-foot rope of bedsheets, the four then scaled an eight-foot masonry wall using two aluminum ladders.
One of the inmates was captured shortly after the escape. Two others, who were captured nine days later, managed to escape a second time May 29, but only for a few minutes.
A fourth is still at large.
According to one knowledgeable source in the department, corrections investigators have been probing allegations that officers in the jail's northwest 3 sector, where the break occurred, failed to make a routine check that night of the reinforced steel window bars -- even though they signed a nightly report saying an inspection had been made.
The source also said there is some doubt as to whether officers made routine cell checks around the time of the 10 p.m. breakout. If they had, the sources said, they would have found at least four inmates crowded into the one-man cell.
There are also concerns, the source said, that the officers had left their posts in the cellblock without authority at the time of the escape.
The source said the three officers could be subject to reprimand or dismissal, depending upon the outcome of the grand jury investigation.
Bernard Demczuk, chief shop steward for the correctional officers union, said yesterday that he had not seen the report.
"Whether there was some complicity [by the officers] I don't know, but the breakout wouldn't have occurred in the first place if we didn't have all the morale problems that come from budget cuts and layoffs," Demczuk said.
In a letter Monday to D.C. Jail Superintendent George Holland, the 340 officers at the jail outlined what they said were dangerous staff shortages and equipment malfunctions at the facility. The "violations in health and safety that presently exist," they concluded, "contributed to a successful breakout" May 8, and they threatened to walk off the job if conditions were not improved.
For the last three months, the guards' union has been feuding with corrections Director Jackson and Mayor Marion Barry over the effect that Barry's plan to cut city spending, in order to avoid a budget deficit, would have on conditions in city correctional facilities.
So far, 58 guards at the jail have received layoff notices. Barry has proposed laying off 225 corrections employes at the jail and or other facilities by Sept. 30. Many of the layoffs are in the corrections department, city officials said, because it has been one of the most guilty of overspending in the past.