A federal judge here denied yesterday the city's request that the federal government be made to share responsibility for meeting the court-imposed inmate population ceiling at the D.C. Jail.
The action by U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant came as D.C. corrections officials for the fourth straight day delayed allowing new prisoners to enter the jail because their presence might have pushed the population over the limit.
Bryant refused to make the federal government a defendant in the inmates' 15-year-old suit that spawned the population limit of 1,694 prisoners. In doing so, Bryant seemed to thwart the city's attempts to force the Justice Department to resume taking newly sentenced city inmates into federal prisons.
Deputy Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen on Jan. 14 ended the government's 4 1/2-month agreement to accept prisoners because, he said, the city had not made progress in building a new jail inside the District.
"We have not looked at the options beyond that," said City Administrator Thomas Downs, explaining that the District has not decided whether to appeal Bryant's ruling.
"Everything in this entire criminal justice system management process is interrelated," Downs said. "The decision of whether or not to appeal is more complex than a simple reaction."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Royce C. Lamberth, who argued that the city had made no plans of its own to solve the jail's continuing crowding problems, said he had no comment.
"We welcome the decision," said John More, one of the attorneys for the jail's inmates. "We have felt all along that the prison system was the city's responsibility."
The jail inmates' attorneys have asked Bryant to find the city in contempt of court and fine it $50,000 for violating the inmate population cap on Dec. 7 and then trying to cover up the infraction. Bryant has not ruled on that request.
In an unrelated matter, attorneys for inmates at Lorton Reformatory's Central Facility asked U.S. District Judge June Green Wednesday to find the city in contempt for violating court orders concerning its operation and fine the city $7,500. They also asked for a "special master" to monitor compliance with the court's orders.
Despite the corrections department's continuing scramble to make sufficient space at the D.C. Jail to house prisoners, Downs said last night, "We won't bust the cap" at today's 4 a.m. count. He projected the inmate population would be 1,684.
In a related development, the city government authorized a private contractor Wednesday to begin work on modular buildings that will house 200 inmates at Lorton's Central Facility. According to the contract, the two dormitory-style buildings and related dining and recreation areas make up the first phase of construction and must be completed in six months.
Two additional buildings, each with 100 single cells, are to be added later.
Meanwhile, officials of Teamsters Local 246, which represents jail and other corrections employes, blasted the city yesterday for firing 11 members of the jail's medical staff who did not report to work at the jail's infirmary on Tuesday.
Union officials have denied involvement in the job action, during which 17 of 26 infirmary workers called in sick, apparently to protest city plans to hire a private contractor to run the jail's medical services.
"We feel these people have done a good job, and now a subcontractor is going to come in here and possibly take them out of their work," said Ernie V. Jumalon, the local's principal executive and secretary-treasurer. "We are going to represent them. We are going to take this all the way" through arbitration.
Donald H. Weinberg, head of the D.C. Office of Labor Relations, said that the sickout was "concerted" and a violation of D.C. labor laws, which prohibit city employes from striking. He said that five of the 17 who reported to work Tuesday after they were called at home would have less severe action taken against them and that one was "legitimately" sick.