THE D.C. JAIL is one of the District's longest running problems. Since 1971, life behind its walls has been the subject of litigation in federal court. So we are not surprised that yet another court-appointed monitor has taken a close look at jail conditions and come away shocked and disturbed. This time, however, real corrective action may spring from a monitor's reaction.
Karen Schneider, who took on the post nearly two years ago, has blown the whistle on alleged beatings of inmates by corrections staff, and crowding and filthy conditions in cells reserved primarily for problem prisoners. Her findings, detailed in an Oct. 14 letter to Richard Love in the D.C. corporation counsel's office, described conditions on one of the jail's tiers: "It was strewn with debris, the floor was dirty and sticky and there was a horrible odor emanating from the shower area. . . . Worms have been observed squirming in black sludge that oozes from the floor drain" of a shower that was dirty and smelly on several earlier visits.
The jail's problems may extend beyond poor physical conditions. Ms. Schneider reports that scenes videotaped by corrections officers suggests that an inmate may have been beaten on three separate occasions. Her concerns about possible inmate battering and humiliation by corrections staff have prompted her to call for a federal investigation -- and to warn the city that she would deliver her complaints to the U.S. attorney's office or the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division if Corrections Department leaders did not.
Corrections Director Odie Washington is more optimistic. He said Friday that "when [the monitor] writes of an incident, she reaches conclusions at times before the incident is totally investigated." Mr. Washington contends that the videotapes cited by the monitor are subject to different interpretations and that conditions at the jail aren't as bad as reported. Nonetheless, he has asked the D.C. inspector general to investigate the monitor's allegations and promises to make public both the IG's findings and the Corrections Department's follow-up action, if any.
Residents need to know what happened at the jail. An independent no-holds-barred probe is the way to find out -- and get that notorious facility finally cleaned up.