THE FIRES at Lorton are out and the inmates are in, thanks to some help from federal and state officials, who scurried to find spaces wherever they could to assist a ravaged D.C. prison system. But the damage goes well beyond the 14 buildings at Lorton. The most intense heat is now squarely on Mayor Marion Barry and the D.C. Council. What has been an intolerably long local corrections crisis is now under national scrutiny. The Reagan administration is poised to seize control if the city government doesn't do so itself. Already the comments of Justice Department officials include swipes at this city's ability to govern itself and to control crime. But the city government has neither the time nor, right now, the standing to get into that kind of a spat when its correctional house is in such spectacular disorder.
Besides taking care of the obvious -- finding temporary facilities, disciplining the inmates who organized and participated in the uprising and cooperating with Fairfax County and other assisting jurisdictions -- the District government has to get cracking on the building of a new prison facility in the city. It is not that this facility will automatically take care of the overcrowding in the city's system, though it will provide relief. Far more important, its construction would signify an end to years of overlooking the conditions in the correctional system and to years of political dodging by the city government whenever the subject of an in-city prison facility came up.
While Mayor Barry's feet are being held to the political fires, the members of the council should not be spared criticism for their gutless obstructionism over the years. Instead of facing the fact that a facility had to be, could be and would be built in the city, they preferred to talk about ways to get around it or how to stash it with all the others in Northern Virginia.
It won't do, either, just to come up every once in a while with a nice rendering of a possible facility or with soil samples and surveys to use as excuses to put things off at least until after the elections. As we said yesterday, the city will be watching. So, now, will be the rest of the country.