District and federal officials failed to reach an agreement yesterday over a plan to reduce crowding in the city's prisons, prompting some to predict that a federal judge may soon order federal prisons to immediately begin accepting District prisoners.
U.S. District Judge June L. Green ordered District and federal officials last week to meet and fashion a voluntary plan to reduce crowding in the city's prisons within 30 days by sending some inmates to federal institutions and releasing others early. A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.
Retired D.C. judge John D. Fauntleroy Jr., the special court officer who conducted the meeting yesterday at the District Building, said he "couldn't get the parties to agree," and he filed a report to Green.
Fauntleroy said that it is "a good possibility" that Green will order the federal government to take District prisoners. Other sources said that, judging from her frustrations at last week's hearing, she most likely would make the order.
Fifteen people attended the meeting, including City Administrator Thomas M. Downs, Corrections Director Hallem H. Williams Jr., D.C. Parole Board Chairman Gladys Mack, Corporation Counsel Frederick D. Cooke Jr., Assistant U.S. Attorney Royce C. Lamberth, several other federal officials and lawyers representing District inmates, according to Fauntleroy.
"No one is insensitive to the human problem," Cooke said. "But there are significant institutional differences between the parties."
The city originally was to have reduced inmate populations at Lorton Reformatory's Occoquan facilities to 1,281 by June 1, but Green has twice delayed imposition to allow Fauntleroy time to produce a plan addressing the overall crowding issue. The newest deadline is tomorrow, but the Occoquan medium-security prisons still house 600 inmates more than the new limits.
D.C. corrections officials said yesterday that 267 inmates had either been released early or approved for early parole under the emergency law that Mayor Marion Barry invoked July 3 to ease prison crowding. But the city must take further action soon, they said, because the releases are "just a drop in the bucket" and the prisons have begun filling up again.
Under the measure, Barry could declare a prison emergency for two more 90-day periods, triggering the early release of nonviolent prisoners. But corrections officials said they are uncertain how large the pool of eligible prisoners would be after the first 90-day sweep that will be completed by late September.
Green ordered that the U.S. government become a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Lorton inmates after such a motion was made by lawyer Peter Nickles, who represents inmates at Lorton's Maximum facility and Central, a medium-security prison. Nickles also requested that Green force the federal government to begin taking all newly sentenced prisoners from D.C. Superior Court.
Nickles and city officials contend that because a 1932 federal law gives the attorney general custody of all D.C. prisoners, the federal government shares responsibility with the city for providing adequate prisoner housing.
"I'm disappointed that the parties were not able to reach an agreement," Nickles, who was not at the meeting, said yesterday. "The result is that we will have to press the District Court to take an extraordinary measure to resolve the overcrowding crisis."
Federal officials have said that they would appeal an order by Green to accept District prisoners.
The U.S. government maintains that D.C. prisoners are the responsibility of the District. Federal officials said the city had not acted in good faith to add emergency housing for inmates, which was a condition of the federal government's acceptance of 1,700 city prisoners in late 1985 and early 1986.