Mayor Marion Barry said yesterday that persons convicted of nonviolent crimes should not be jailed, and that this would be one way to relieve the District's prison overcrowding problem.
" . . . We have to philosophically come to a point where we ought to incarcerate those persons who are accused and convicted of violent crimes," Barry said at his monthly press conference.
"And those nonviolent crimes -- petty larceny and other kinds of crimes against property -- we ought to look at either restitution or community service. We ought to look at a whole range of things that keep people out of jail cells," he said.
He later added through a spokeswoman that he would put major drug dealers, but "not the nickle-and-dime guys," in the category of crimes of violence.
U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova, told of Barry's remarks, said that persons convicted of nonviolent crimes and crimes against property generally are not getting prison sentences now anyway unless they have a long record. But this is not the area where arrests are increasing anyway, and the "prison population is going to expand," he said.
DiGenova also said he hoped the mayor's comments "wouldn't send a signal to the criminal community that if they commit a property crime they won't get time . . . . It's like giving a license to steal" to make this a public policy decision.
The city has been trying for years to deal with prison overcrowding, which has been the subject of several court suits. U.S. District Court Judge William B. Bryant held Barry and other city officials in contempt in September 1983 for failing to reduce overcrowding at the D.C. Jail, and Barry acknowledged yesterday that the city still is not in compliance.
"We're going to manage the overcrowding . . . . We've managed it before," the mayor said.
Barry also joined yesterday in a ceremony opening a comprehensive alcohol and drug treatment center at 1300 First St. NE, where one of the goals is to identify criminals who are substance abusers and recommend alternatives to incarceration.
The city plans to have 400 more beds available at Lorton in January or February, which would help relieve crowding at the D.C. Jail. Barry said yesterday he does not want any more prison space built, however, because it would only result in more persons being sentenced to jail terms.
"As long as there is space, they judges are going to fill them up . . . . It's a never-ending cycle. That's why I'm opposed to the construction of any additional facilities beyond the 400 . . . , " he said.
On another subject, Barry dismissed comments by former attorney general John N. Mitchell likening the running of the city government to "the Amos 'n' Andy Taxi Cab Co.," by referring to Mitchell's 1975 conviction for perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
"Apparently, in that instance the federal prison system didn't do a good job of rehabilitation," the mayor said. " . . . I guess he hasn't learned to tell the truth yet."
On other topics, he said he does not expect to propose a tax increase next year and that the city plans to issue long-term bonds to refinance $80 million of debt in early December.
He said he would "move vigorously" against the Laurel abortion clinic, which the city has cited as having problems for four years, as soon as emergency legislation enabling him to do so comes to him, but he stopped short of saying he would immediately close it down.
Recent bombings of abortion clinics in the Washington area "reminds me of the days of the civil rights movement when the Klan in the still of the night bombed churches and bombed other facilities . . . because they disagreed philosophically . . . with the people carrying on this movement," he said.
A proposed $1.5 million enhanced 911 emergency phone system would enable the city to cut down on frivolous calls because it would display a person's name, phone number and address or location of a public phone where the call is originating.
"If somebody is misusing the system, we would send a police officer over there and hopefully arrest them," Barry said.
He defended the city's awarding of consultant contracts to former high-level city officials, a practice recently criticized by the D.C. auditor.
"I don't think you ought to be punished because you've worked for the government," he said. "I hope when I leave the government . . . that I can go out and get a job someplace and not be penalized for having worked for the government.