A federal court judge has lifted an order limiting the population of the Prince William/Manassas Adult Detention Center.

The action of U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis has put the responsibility for maintaining a manageable population at the jail in the hands of jail authorities. Those officials said the crowding problems have been solved by construction of a modular jail and implementation of three programs designed to reduce the number of pre-trial detainees.

In March 1989, Ellis had ordered the inmate population in the center's main jail to be kept below 255 in response to a suit filed by Henry Perry-Bey. The suit claimed jail conditions were "inhumane and unbearable" because of crowding. At the time Perry-Bey filed suit, the center's main building, designed to hold 175 inmates, held an average of 356 detainees, court records show. The jail at times held as many as 460 inmates.

Ellis on Friday refused a request by Phillip J. Hirschkop, attorney for Perry-Bey, to keep the case open for six months.

The order gave jail officials leeway to request that the cap be lifted if the population remained lower than the maximum of 255 for at least 90 days, said Jan Massey, attorney for the jail board.

The "action in federal court to vacate the Perry-Bey consent order is good news and is warranted," Robert L. Cole, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said at a news conference Friday. "Prince William County and Manassas have worked diligently to comply with the spirit of the letter of the consent decree."

Cole (D-Gainesville) said the county has spent $14.09 million this fiscal year to comply with the population limit. The amount represents a 117 percent increase in two years.

The center's main jail population was cut significantly in April with the opening of a modular jail adjacent to the older building. A work release program in Manassas houses additional inmates, jail officials said.

The county leased temporary trailer jails in Haymarket for $32,000 per month to hold some inmates before the modular unit opened.

The county also implemented a pre-trial diversion program, which allows people suspected of nonviolent crimes to remain out of jail pending trial.

A site is being considered for a new 1,200-bed jail, which would be opened about 1995.

At the news conference, jail supervisor Richard Kiekbusch credited the staff of the adult detention center with helping to bring the inmate population under control. Massey said the average population of the jail system is now 416 inmates.

The officers and civilian staff of the facility have done "nothing short of a remarkable job of managing the inmates and facility," Kiekbusch said.

Kiekbusch said the jail population has been stable for 21 months. "We need to look at that stability and what is the likelihood of that continuing," he said.

Massey and Kiekbusch said jail authorities plan to work to make sure the population stays within limits. "It's better to have the population close to or at its rated capacity," Massey said. "That makes it a safer facility, and that can only be in the public's best interest."