A highly critical study of the D.C. Department of Corrections was "not very even-handed" and "contains language which serves to fuel the fires of controversy rather than offering viable solutions," according to the city's response to the author of the report.

City Administrator Thomas M. Downs, in a Jan. 28 letter to the report's author, criminologist Sean McConville, said it was "an amazing, arrogant affront" that McConville failed to interview persons "who play key roles in criminal justice policy formation" in the District, including Mayor Marion Barry and Corrections Department Director James Palmer.

Downs' letter was released yesterday.

Also yesterday, attorneys for the city responded to a request by lawyers for a group of D.C. Jail inmates that Barry be fined and held in contempt of court for a Dec. 7 violation of a court-ordered ceiling on the number of inmates at the jail. Some Corrections Department officials subsequently tried to conceal the violation.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court, attorneys for the city said a finding of civil contempt would be "inappropriate" because recent court hearings on the matter "have in no way demonstrated recalcitrance on the part of the mayor."

The reply states that it is Palmer's responsibility, as corrections director, to assure compliance, and notes that "the director has been absolutely diligent and zealous in his efforts to assure compliance."

City officials also have acknowledged that they are not in compliance with a court-ordered timetable for making inmate parole decisions. The city's reply filed yesterday says in a footnote that "it would not be equitable to impose punishment . . . for other violations" that are "not directly related to the main thrust of the remedy sought, i.e., a population limitation."

Downs' six-page letter to McConville was in response to a 312-page report McConville wrote on the District's correctional policies. The study was based on facts in the public record, on 30 interviews with law enforcement officials, politicians and others, and on more than a dozen visits to the D.C. Jail and Lorton Reformatory, McConville said in a recent interview.

He said the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, was a "preliminary draft" sent to local officials for review and comment.

The report said that the Corrections Department suffers from "chronic managerial ineptitude," political interference and official inaction, concluding that "the best way forward for the Department of Corrections" would be to appoint an outside manager to run the agency.

In his response, Downs said the study "in some instances unfairly and subjectively represents your version of reality (and) offers idealistic solutions . . . . " Downs also noted that many of the deficiencies cited by McConville have been corrected.

Downs' letter states that the report's "characterization of the politicization of corrections is a thinly veiled reference to the mayor and Palmer's friendship," and calls "grossly unfair" its portrayal of poor morale and its findings of ineffectual management and leadership.

Downs wrote that McConville's criticism of the department's handling of a $42 million special education fund established by Congress "fails to place implementation . . . in proper perspective."