The District's decision to send a top-level official of the Corrections Department on a $3,600 three-week trip to China to help advise that country on how to run its prison system drew a sharp rebuke yesterday from Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.).

"You talk about sending in the fox to guard the chicken coop," Parris, a critic of the District's prison system, said on the House floor. "Perhaps the most blatant contradiction here is the fact that for more than 12 years, the District's corrections system has been plagued by a cancer of a combination of mismanagment and nonmanagement."

Gwynne Washington, assistant director of the corrections department in charge of prison education, left last weekend on an "informational exchange" paid for with public funds. Washington runs a special vocational and educational training program at the city-run Lorton Reformatory in southern Fairfax County. D.C. officials have defended the trip as an "informational exchange." A corrections spokesman said Monday that "China is in a period of great change and development and needs some expertise from a proven system."

"If the city had instead used that $3,600 to hire a consultant to train itself how to run its own system, that would be wonderful," said Parris, the ranking Republican on the House District of Columbia Committee.