The District's tab for fines imposed because of crowding at Lorton's Central facility is nearing $400,000, but an attorney for inmates said in court yesterday that the penalties have had no effect on the city and indicated that he will ask for the fines to be raised in coming months.

U.S. District Judge June L. Green imposed the fines -- $250 each day for each dormitory that exceeded court-ordered capacity -- in July after she found the city in contempt for violating the population limits. Of the prison's 25 dormitories, 22 were in violation as of last month.

Peter J. Nickles, who represents Central inmates in their seven-year-old suit against the city, said during a brief hearing yesterday that he hopes to devise a plan that would funnel part of the fines to the city, if it begins new construction to alleviate the current crowding.

According to a report Nickles filed with the court, the city's fines had reached $357,250 by the end of November and were mounting at the rate of nearly $5,000 a day. Nickles said he would like to have the amount of the fine doubled and then raised again each month until the city comes into compliance.

Green set a Dec. 17 hearing on the proposal.

None of the court-ordered fines has been collected because Green's entire July 30 order -- which also directed federal authorities to begin accepting newly sentenced D.C. prisoners -- has been appealed. On the same day, Green set population limits for the three Occoquan facilities at Lorton. The city is also in violation of those orders, but it has not appealed in that case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals is to hear arguments in the Central case next month, but a ruling is not expected for several weeks after that hearing.

In a related development, city corrections officials said yesterday that after Mayor Marion Barry's declaration Sunday of a prison crowding emergency, the city released at total of 70 inmates on Monday and Tuesday, 10 of them from halfway houses and the rest from the D.C. Jail in Southeast Washington and Lorton.

Alan A. Pemberton, another attorney for the inmates, said the population at the Central facility, the city's primary medium-security prison, was 1,266 on Friday, compared with the court-ordered limit of 1,125. But he noted that the 1,266 figure included inmates in control cells and the infirmary, which are not included in the population limit.

The latest comparable figures available are for Nov. 30, Pemberton said. At that time, there were 1,195 persons in the dormitories, compared with the 1,125 limit.