A lawyer has charged in U.S. District Court that 17 men -- 11 pretrial prisoners and six convicts -- were housed at the D.C. Jail for several days last week in a single cell called "the cage" without beds, mattresses, toilets, drinking water or chairs.
The attorney, J. Patrick Hickey, asked a judge in papers filed Wednesday to hold Mayor Marion Barry in contempt for the second time in 13 months for allegedly violating court guidelines on overcrowding at the facility.
Hickey alleged that such use of the cage -- which a jail official has testified is about the size of a courtroom jury box -- violates a 1982 order by U.S. District Court Judge William B. Bryant governing double-celling of prisoners at the jail.
City officials were unavailable for comment yesterday.
Hickey also charged that jail administrators have routinely used the cage to hold as many as 47 prisoners for brief periods, some without medical examinations or evaluations of their criminal records. Bryant has ordered that prisoners be screened before double-celling is allowed.
Hickey, who represents pretrial prisoners in a 12-year-old class action lawsuit involving the jail, asked Bryant in a hearing last month to limit the number of prisoners housed at the chronically crowded facility to its design capacity of 1,378 by next summer.
The prisoner population as of Tuesday, according to Hickey's court papers, was 2,376. Bryant has not ruled on his request.
In October 1983 Bryant found Barry, D.C. Corrections Director James Palmer and Assistant Director George Holland in contempt for failing to abide by his orders to reduce the overcrowding. Bryant fined the three $50,000, plus $1,000 a day for each day the city was not in compliance.
The city, which maintained that it had complied with the court orders by the time of Bryant's contempt finding, has asked that the fines be set aside. That request, too, is pending.
Bryant said last year he was finding the officials in contempt to "neutralize their insensitivity to the rights of inmates . . . and to stimulate future compliance with the court's orders."
An aide to Bryant said yesterday that lawyers for the District will be allowed to respond to Hickey's contempt motion before a hearing is scheduled.
Bryant ruled in 1982 that the D.C. Corrections Department could use double-celling to accommodate the jail's growing population. But the judge ordered that no pretrial prisoner be confined in a cell "for more than 12 hours in any day in the company of another inmate."
Hickey said in court papers that jail documents showed 44 prisoners were housed last Friday night in the Infirmary dormitory. "This 'Dorm' is in fact the holding cage," Hickey said. He said the 44 prisoners were replaced on Saturday by 20 new prisoners, 17 of whom remained in the cage until Tuesday morning.
Jail officials have routinely used the cage to house prisoners in recent months, according to Hickey.
"Some of these residents had not received physical examinations by physicians or physician assistants prior to being housed in this cage," he said. "None were provided beds or mattresses, but slept on the floor as best they could."
Jail officials said at last month's hearing that they are considering transferring about 500 felons from the jail to the city's detention facility at Lorton in suburban Fairfax County. In exchange, they would shift 400 inmates convicted of misdemeanors from Lorton to the jail, for a gain of 100 vacancies.
Last week, several hundred Lorton inmates filed a complaint in U.S. District Court, attempting to block any such proposed transfer. The inmates said in court papers the move would interrupt their educational and job training.