A Lorton Reformatory inmate who was severely burned in a methane gas explosion at the prison last December filed a $15 million suit against the District government yesterday, asserting that the D.C. Department of Corrections operated the facility negligently and violated his constitutional rights.

Arthur Moody, who suffered second and third degree burns over 36 percent of his body in the Dec. 3 explosion at the prison's Youth Center No. 1 facility, asserts in his suit that the District government knew or should have known that "dangerous" levels of explosive gas were seeping into the facility and that it failed to remedy the situation.

The suit, filed in D.C. Superior Court, alleges that the government showed a "reckless and callous disregard" for Moody's "rights, welfare and safety," resulting in "severe and permanent injuries." It claims that Moody was thus "deprived of his rights under the 8th Amendment of the Constitution . . . to be free from cruel and unusual punishment."

Corrections Department spokesman Leroy Anderson declined to comment on the suit because it is in litigation.

Moody remains hospitalized at the Washington Hospital Center recuperating from burns to his face, trunk and upper extremities. Held under 24-hour guard, he was in fair condition yesterday, according to a hospital spokeswoman. She said that he "is ready for discharge, but no decision has been made on a date."

Moody was one of two inmates burned in two early-morning explosions at the youth center Dec. 3 and 6. The other inmate, Anthony Johnson, 25, suffered second and third degree burns over 86 percent of his body in the second explosion and died Christmas Day.

His father, Saul Richardson, filed a $6 million lawsuit Jan. 4 against the District and Fairfax County in U.S. District Court here, claiming wrongful death, violation of constitutional rights and negligence, according to court documents.

Armam Feldman, Moody's attorney, said yesterday that his client is "up and about. He's doing fairly well." However, Feldman expressed concern that his client might be sent back to prison before he is "combat ready . . . . I don't think he is fully recovered from his injuries. He definitely would not be able to defend himself if he had to."

Moody, 26, who is serving a 6-year sentence for grand larceny and car theft, is scheduled for release in August. The Rev. Eugene Brake, a Catholic priest and a volunteer chaplain at Lorton, is trying to get Moody's sentence commuted, and Feldman said a petition for commutation is pending with the U.S. Justice Department.

Moody's suit, which asks for $5 million in compensatory and $10 million in punitive damages, alleges that the District government failed to make "adequate inspections to determine the existence and level of concentration of inflammable and explosive gases." It claims Moody's injuries resulted from the District's "negligence, carelessness and recklessness."

More than 300 inmates were evacuated from the youth center after the explosions. They were taken to other facilities at the large prison complex, located in southern Fairfax County, which increased overcrowding.

The explosions occurred, investigators said, when inmates lit cigarettes and ignited methane gas that had seeped into the facility and had become concentrated in the inmates' rooms.

Investigators pinpointed the source of the gas as the I-95 Landfill, just a few hundred feet from the prison. Construction crews are rigging a system to vent the gas from the landfill and are building underground barriers around the prison to prevent the gas from seeping inside. The project is expected to be complete and inmates allowed to return to the facility in June, Anderson said.