After scrambling for more than a year, Prince William County and Manassas officials have met a court-ordered deadline to relieve crowding at the jail, authorities said.

The population at the Adult Detention Center in Manassas, which was built to house 175 inmates but has held as many as 460-stood at 219 at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

That number was 36 below the maximum population of 255 imposed for that deadline by a federal judge in March 1989.

The jail population must remain under the cap for 90 days, when the Prince William County/Manassas Jail Board plans to ask Judge T.S. Ellis III to remove the order, board attorney Jan Massey said.

The court order also requires the jail to maintain a number of inmate programs-including high school equivalency degree programs, religious studies, and drug and alcohol programs-which had been discontinued when severe crowding made it difficult to move large numbers of inmates around in the jail, Massey said. Most of the programs were cut in April 1988, and have been reinstated.

The crowding was eased by the opening of a modular jail site next to the detention center and implementation of a work release program for limited numbers of inmates.

The population of the modular jail Monday was 163 and about 45 inmates were housed in the work release program in Manassas, said detention center superintendent Richard Kiekbusch.

Temporary trailer jails, located in Haymarket, were used to house some prisoners until the modular facility opened in April.

A pre-trial diversion program, geared to making beds available for convicted criminals, also has been implemented, It allows people who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes to await trial outside of jail under the direction of corrections officers, said Ruth Johnson, supervisor of the community corrections program, which oversees the effort. About 20 people are enrolled in the program.

"The function is to provide an alternative to incarceration for people awaiting trial," said Johnson, adding that the program was started last year because of the crowding.

Meanwhile, the Citizen's Jail Expansion Committee has been working to secure a site for a 1,200-bed permanent jail tentatively scheduled to open in 1995, Kiekbusch said.

The jail board has been working to reduce the jail population since it settled a lawsuit filed by Henry Perry-Bey charging officials with maintaining "inhumane and unbearable" conditions at the jail.

The citizen's committee is being assisted in the search by the Washington architectural firm of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum.

The committee is scheduled to meet in closed session June 27, when the architects will present three sites picked from a detailed study of six possible locations.

Committee members are tentatively scheduled to announce their top three site choices on July 6 and public hearings will follow later in the month to allow citizens to comment on the locations.

Jail board members will not disclose the locations under consideration, saying so doing would possibly drive up prices and interfere with negotiations.

While the search continues for land for a new jail, Kiekbusch and his crew are charged with making sure the jail's population doesn't exceed the court-ordered cap.

Medium- and maximum-security offenders and suspects are housed in the jail, while minimum-security inmates are housed at the modular unit.

"We've been walking a tightrope for more than a year," Kiekbusch said. "There was a lot of public scrutiny and outcry about this . . . . But jail crowding is not a jail problem, it's a problem with the criminal justice system that shows up in the jails.

"Other people make the decisions about the utilization of jail space. I run the jail, but I don't decide who comes here."