The D.C. Jail's record office, which computes inmate sentences and ensures that prisoners are released on time, suffers from a "lack of direction, supervision and training," understaffing and low morale, according to a report by the U.S. Justice Department's Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The report, based on a three-week evaluation by the bureau of prisons submitted to the D.C. Department of Corrections in March 1985, says that "problems were identified in the majority of the record office functions," noting that "the most serious issue involved the timely release of inmates from the facility."
The seven-page, single-spaced report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, made 21 recommendations to improve the office, concluding that "without the proper leadership, guidance and training, the record office operation will continue to deteriorate beyond the 'fragile foundation' that it is now operating on."
Corrections Director James Palmer, in an interview Feb. 7, said he was familiar with the report and acknowledged that the jail's record office was understaffed and that workers generally were poorly trained.
"What I have to do is get the managers and supervisors to understand that what they are doing [in the record office] is wrong and get them to do it the way the study suggests it," Palmer said. "As director, I told them I felt this study was a good study. Let's do this."
During the interview, Palmer said it would take time for his advisers to research which of the report's 21 recommendations had been put into effect, promising the information would be available in four days. By last Friday, however, the department still was unable to report what recommendations had been enacted.
Palmer said the record office had been a problem for years. According to the bureau of prisons report, "Attempts had been made on numerous occasions [by the record office staff] to bring their problems to the attention of the administration . . . [but] limited progress was made."
The report also said that a "comprehensive analysis" of the record office by a private contractor in 1976 "did very little to correct their problems," apparently because the report was ignored.
In an April 1985 memo responding to the bureau of prisons report, jail Administrator William Long wrote that there was "a serious situation of operational deficiency within our record office of longstanding" and said the 1976 recommendations were "still applicable" and "still valid."
A Corrections Department source who asked not to be identified said that, despite the two studies, corrections officials "have not addressed the core of the problem," which the source said was the lack of adequate training for the staff.
The prime responsibility of the record office is computing inmate sentences and determining when prisoners are eligible for release or parole, based on complicated formulas that take into account sentences imposed by the courts and the amount of time an inmate has already served.
"It appeared that the majority of the record office staff could not compute sentences due to a lack of adequate training," the bureau of prisons report said, adding, "It was obvious that the staff had limited control over the workflow and devoted much of their time responding to crisis situations."
It noted that the staff often "had to operate on a 'learn as you go' basis" and that sentence "computations were often completed on the day of release" and were "not routinely reviewed by a second staff member as a double check for accuracy."
"Several supervisors complained that they could not perform their jobs with the limited staff and resources . . . . Unfortunately, the timely completion of the inmates' sentences, which is often a critical function in the record office, was given a low priority due to shortage of staff and a lack of trained personnel," the report stated.
The report suggested that the Federal Bureau of Prisons conduct 40-hour training sessions with employes of the office to teach them "the fundamental information needed for completion of basic computations."
That recommendation was not taken, Palmer said, because employes of the record office were too busy catching up with a backlog, noted in the report, of about 200 inmates whose sentences had not been computed. A spokesman for the department said Friday that there is now no backlog of computations.
"If I've got people working 16 hours overtime [to rectify the backlog], how am I going to have the time to train them?" Palmer said. He said he still hopes to initiate some kind of training program, possibly with prisons bureau help.
The report said that there had been "several memorandums" requesting additional staff for the record office, saying "it is obvious that more positions are needed" than the 24 persons who were employed there when the report was written.
Jail administrator Long, in his April 1985 memo about the report, recommended hiring 13 people for the record office to bring the staff to 37.
A Corrections Department spokesman said that, as of Friday, there were 25 persons working in the record office, five of whom were corrections officers detailed to the unit. He said that the Corrections Department and the D.C. Office of Personnel are working to hire another 14 persons for the office.
The report found that the office was cluttered and disorganized, that phone calls often went unanswered, that documents were often misfiled and that inmate files were removed from the record office "with no accountability." It also said that some correspondence from other agencies was "discarded without any attempt to reply to the inquiries," noting that this practice was corrected when top Corrections Department officials were informed of it.