City officials, saying they have taken steps to reduce severe overcrowding at the D.C. Jail, urged a federal judge yesterday not to limit the number of inmates there, calling such a move "unnecessary and unjustified judicial intervention."
D.C. Corporation Counsel Judith W. Rogers outlined the city's efforts in a memorandum submitted to U.S. District Court Senior Judge William B. Bryant, who threatened last week to hold Mayor Marion Barry and city corrections officials in contempt if persistent overcrowding continued.
"I fully understand Judge Bryant's concern about the situation because I am concerned about it too," Barry said in a statement yesterday. Barry said the city's budget for corrections has doubled to more than $100 million in the last five years. "I understand that we must do even more," Barry said, adding that he will be meeting with D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I and U.S. Attorney Stanley S. Harris to discuss steps that might be taken.
But the city said problems at the jail, which houses nearly 2,500 inmates in a facility built to hold 1,355, should be handled administratively or through new legislation "rather than through judicial decree," and said it has plans to construct new jail space and take other measures to resolve the problem.
Bryant last week ordered a hearing Aug. 9 to determine whether city officials violated strict conditions he set last year when, in response to overcrowding, he allowed them to begin housing two inmates in each cell. Bryant also said he would consider setting a limit on the number of prisoners who could be housed in the jail and asked city officials to submit suggestions on whether that should be done and what the limit should be.
The city said "the drastic step of judicial imposition of a population limit at the jail would be both unnecessary and unjustified" and that the city was working "in good faith" to address the problem.
But an attorney for inmates who complained of overcrowding in a suit filed 12 years ago told Bryant yesterday that the city "should have been working on a solution. . . over the past several years. . . but continually ignored the 'crisis'. . . . "
The attorney, J. Patrick Hickey, said in a brief filed with Bryant that "it would be the height of irony (and of injustice) if city officials are able to obtain more time to continue violating" the rights of inmates to adequate housing.
Hickey suggested that about 900 inmates held in D.C. Jail awaiting trial be housed in single cells "unless and until" the District can set up a plan to insure that no inmates will be double-celled for more than 12 hours in any day and for no longer than 30 days.
Those were the conditions Bryant set when he allowed double-celling last year. Bryant said last week that "obviously" neither condition had been met.
In its brief, the city pointed out that, despite the overcrowding, "there has been no allegation that basic services such as adequate food, sanitation and medical attention have been overtaxed."
City officials also said that other measures to ease overcrowding are under consideration, including early parole of some inmates, increased job placement efforts to permit others to be released on parole and new legislation to allow judges to sentence persons to community service rather than jail.
The city said about $17 million in construction and operating expenditures have been budgeted to refurbish facilities on the grounds of the Lorton Reformatory to provide space for an additional 900 inmates in the next 18 months.
Bryant, saying conditions at the jail have "reached a point of crisis," noted last week that those planned facilities would not provide enough space for the current excess population, much less the population increases that can be expected soon.