The embattled D.C. Department of Corrections will undergo an extensive command reorganization to give complete supervisory authority to the top administrators of the eight facilities at Lorton Reformatory and the D.C. Jail, Corrections Director James Palmer announced yesterday.
"We are going to decentralize the whole Department of Corrections" because the heads of the city's various prisons "were of the opinion they did not control their institutions," Palmer said at a news conference. "It should improve everything."
The announcement was made a day after Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity said he intends to ask the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia to investigate what he termed the city's "criminal negligence" in managing Lorton, a huge prison complex in southern Fairfax County.
The decentralization plan, which city officials said will improve control of prisoners and internal communications, will be implemented within 12 months and will affect about 200 employes, Palmer said.
Under the current command structure that has been followed since the late 1960s, there are seven administrators, each of whom is responsible for running one, and in some cases two, of the Lorton facilities and the jail.
However, many of the activities at Lorton, such as making repairs, food preparation, medical treatment and educational programs, are not under the control of the administrators. Some administrators have complained that they are unable to manage their institutions effectively.
Under the new plan, Palmer said, "every function carried on in an institution will report directly or indirectly to the administrator," including preparation of the financial budgets for the facilities.
"We are going to do everything we can to tighten up the running of our institutions," he said.
Palmer said the plan will "give me an opportunity to more fully evaluate" the effectiveness of the administrators. "If you are in control of everything, you cannot offer me excuses."
Herrity has complained of "middle management problems" at Lorton that he said have been highlighted in studies of the institution, most notably a 1,248-page report commissioned by the county and made public in the fall of 1984.
That study cited numerous problems and concluded that Lorton's facilities were run like separate "fiefdoms," Herrity said yesterday. He charged that the District government has not rectified the problems and is consequently "criminally negligent."
Herrity said that, at a board meeting Monday, he will present a list of 17 incidents at Lorton that the Fairfax County police have been notified about since September to justify seeking an investigation of the prison by the U.S. attorney's office. The incidents include four escapes, two major disturbances and one minor one, eight stabbings and two assualts on guards, according to a spokesman for Herrity.
Herrity said he welcomes the decentralization plan as something that may enhance "uniformity and control," at Lorton.
"Whatever he Palmer does, he can't make it any worse." Herrity said.
Palmer noted that all of the escapes cited by Herrity were from minimum-security facilities and that, since he became director in 1983, there have been only three escapes from medium- or maximum-security facilities at Lorton, and all the escapees were recaptured.
In addition, he said, "Not one of [those] residents have ever molested one of the residents of Fairfax in a perimeter escape."