The D.C. Department of Corrections continues to suffer from serious problems in case management, classification of prisoners and records management that "negatively impact the commitment, housing, transfer and release of inmates," according to a Justice Department review.
The review, ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan and conducted by a team headed by D.C. Corrections Trustee John L. Clark, found inadequate and outdated related policies and procedures, insufficient staff training and "virtually nonexistent" management controls. It cited the Leo Gonzales Wright case as a major illustration of what is wrong with the system.
Wright was convicted in 1996 of robbing and fatally stabbing 26-year-old human rights lawyer Bettina Pruckmayr in December 1995. Wright was on parole at the time of the killing, freed by the D.C. Parole Board against the advice of its agent after he has served 16 1/2 years of a 20- to 60-year sentence for the shooting death of a D.C. cabdriver.
Wright was sentenced to life in prison without parole in the Pruckmayr case and was supposed to serve out his term in a federal penitentiary. But earlier this year, Sullivan, who sentenced him in September 1996, found out that Wright remained in the D.C. Corrections system.
The twice-convicted Wright also was permitted to leave the maximum-security prison at the Lorton Correctional Complex in Fairfax County to attend his mother's wake a year after he was convicted of killing Pruckmayr.
"Though securely confined, he was left in bureaucratic limbo and as a result, administratively lost within the criminal justice system for more than two years," Clark said in the report, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post. "The entire system failed. Were it not for the litigation by the Pruckmayr family . . . this situation may well have continued."
The review included the screening and analysis of 1,200 cases of people sentenced to prison from D.C. federal court from 1996 to 1999. It found delays of six months to a year in "identifying, designating and removing inmates" from D.C. Corrections to the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin serving consecutive federal sentences.
For several years, including the time Wright was sent back to D.C. Corrections in 1996, the department had an inadequate classification system in which to manage its inmate population.
"The [Corrections Department] case management staff for at least 19 months repeatedly failed to perform a full and accurate initial classification assessment as required by policy and good practice," the report said. "As a result, they did not discover the lack of all the key classification documents."
Because of poor record-keeping, Wright was treated for more than a year as an inmate "still awaiting final sentencing on some charges," according to the report.
"Even when the necessary documentation was discovered in mid-1997, the [Corrections Department] case manager and her supervisor . . . took no action to correct those deficiencies."
Allowing Wright to attend his mother's wake, the report said, was "unwise." Then-warden Frank Crose, who had been on the job a week, failed to consult with his supervisor before approving the trip for Wright and another convicted murderer.
Crose also neglected to review Wright's full case file and relied on a "materially inaccurate" summary, which failed "to convey all the available information about the current convictions, sentences, notoriety or judicial concern," the report found.
Instead, the summary focused on two-decade-old information from the 1976 case involving cabdriver Joseph N. Woodbury, who was shot to death by Wright after he refused to turn over $19.
Crose is no longer with the Corrections Department.
Even when prison officials learned last January that Wright was being inappropriately held at Lorton, it took several more months to move him into federal custody. Wright is now housed at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas.
Clark proposed two dozen recommendations, including an internal administrative review of the "actions, omissions and competency" of Wright's caseworker and caseworker supervisor while he was housed at Lorton; tightening the policy for allowing prisoners to go on escorted trips; and reorganizing case management operations in D.C. Corrections.