The District government has created temporary jobs for 128 inmates in an unprecedented step to speed their release from custody, thus helping relieve overcrowding at the D.C. Jail, city officials told a Senate subcommittee yesterday.
D.C. City Administrator Thomas M. Downs also told the panel there was "inadequate" coordination between police and corrections officials in the planning that led to last Saturday's mass crackdown on drug trafficking, particularly since the more than 400 arrests in the sweep came as corrections officials were attempting to comply with a judicial order to relieve the jail overcrowding.
Downs' comments came as he and corrections officials outlined to the subcommittee a series of proposals, including efforts to speed up paroles and the pretrial release of persons awaiting trial, that the city is pursuing to relieve the jail's overcrowding.
More than 2,300 inmates are confined two to a cell inside a jail that was designed to house 1,355 prisoners.
Two weeks ago, U.S. District Court Judge William B. Bryant said he was considering holding Mayor Marion Barry and other city officials in contempt if overcrowding at the jail was not reduced.
At the hearing before the Senate D.C. appropriations subcommittee, Corrections Director James F. Palmer said the city has created 128 temporary laborer jobs to expedite parole from Lorton Reformatory for the group of prisoners. He said the inmates' inability to find work had blocked their release because regulations require inmates to have a job before they can be paroled. He said the 128 will be released by July 30, allowing jail inmates to be moved to Lorton.
Matthew Shannon, director of the city's Department of Employment Services, said later that the ex-inmates will be paid the minimum wage, $3.35 an hour, and will be permitted to work in such jobs as building maintenance, road repair and gardening for up to 12 weeks while city officials try to find them permanent jobs.
Shannon said the special program is expected to cost between $250,000 and $500,000.
Downs said in an interview after his testimony that the weekend's crackdown "to some extent" was ill-timed because there was a risk that it could have substantially increased the jail's population.
The day before the crackdown, corrections officials transferred 170 prisoners from the jail to Lorton as part of their program to reduce the overcrowding.
Barry gave the order for police to proceed with the arrests, code-named "C-Note Sevenfold," after he received assurances that most of the people picked up would probably be charged with minor crimes that would enable them to be released almost immediately on bail, Downs said, adding that this is in fact what happened.
Downs added, however, that "we don't like to create a situation where it puts the mayor in the very difficult position of trying to decide between competing needs. We did not do well by the mayor in that case, and we're not going to do that again."
At his monthly news conference yesterday, Barry called the jail overcrowding a "no-win situation." The public is demanding strict law enforcement, which leads to more arrests and jailings, but at the same time is unwilling to pay to build new jails, the mayor said.
Barry repeated that he believes the crackdown, which involved the use of roadblocks, was not unconstitutional, a claim made by some critics concerned about possible civil liberties violations.
Barry also said he is confident the city will be able to convince Judge Bryant at an Aug. 9 hearing that it is taking all necessary steps to relieve the jail's overcrowding.