Six District government officials, including Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson and City Councilman David A. Clarke, are taking an all-expenses-paid trip to Sweden and England to study prison systems there with an eye, they say, to improving prisons in the District.
The group of city officials, who will be led by Alvin Bronstein, a prison specialist for the American Civil Liberties Union, is scheduled to leave Friday on the 11-day, $2,000-a-person trip sponsored by the German Marshall Fund.
The fund is a private Washington-based foundation that promotes the exchange of ideas between the United States and other countries.
The group will spend seven days in Sweden primarily in Stockholm, and three days in London. They will meet with criminal justice officials in both countries, including members of the Swedish Supreme Court and Swedish Parliament.
"I hope that these six people will get some new ideas," Bronstein said, "of what might be possible to deal with problems here."
The European trip will be the second all-expenses-paid trip abroad for Chief Jefferson in recent months. In July, he spent a vacation in Taiwan on a personal consulting trip financed by the Taipei municipal police department.
In addition to Clarke and Jefferson, other city officials scheduled for the trip are Bernice Just, head of the D.C. Board of Parole; D.C. Superior Court Judge Tim Murphy; Asst. U.S. Attorney Robert Ogren and Shirley Wilson, acting executive director of the Office of Criminal Justice, Plans and Analysis.
"I think it is an excellent opportunity," said Wilson. "I think we are going to benefit from it in two ways -- by looking at a system that has a similar problem [England with overcrowding] and looking at a system that has alternatives to prisons [Sweden with its network of preprison educational and rehabilitative facilities]."
According to Denie Weil, a program officer with the Marshall Fund, the trip was planned for the heads of various agencies involved in the criminal justice system. "Everyone from the police to the City Council to the judges to the attorney to Bernice Just in the parole office needed to be involved," said Weil.
"One of the main problems in the District is overcrowding. You can't approach overcrowding just from the point of view of the prison administrator. Overcrowding is something that the administrator doesn't have an enormous ability to control."
Weil said D.C. Corrections chief Delbert Jackson was scheduled for the trip, but he had to cancel at the last minute for medical reasons.
The District has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, said Bronstein, executive director of the National Prison Project of the ACLU. That rate is 600 persons per 100,000 population, three times the national rate of 210 persons per 100,000.
The rates for Sweden and London are 41 and 81 persons per 100,000 population, respectively, Bronstein said.
Bronstein said the crime rates for the two European countries "aren't very different" from the rate in the District, except that there is far less violent crime with guns.
Weil said the group will stay in modest accommodations, paying about $60 per day for a single room without bath in London and $71 a day for a single room with bath in Sweden. Air fare costs about $1,000 each.
She said the Marshall fund, along with the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, has proposed paying a consultant to help the District implement any ideas for improvements gained from the European tour.