ADULT OFFENDERS arrested in the District and sent to halfway houses by judges for pretrial detention and misdemeanor sentencing are still escaping from custody in large numbers. Recent escape statistics have to be discouraging to the police, who make arrests only to learn that offenders are back on the streets, as well as disquieting to a public on the receiving end of the offenses. From the beginning of the year through July 31, 142 halfway house detainees have been listed as escapees. Some of the offenders have been apprehended, and others have returned on their own. But as of last Friday, arrest warrants were still outstanding on 98 adult escapees. Add to that the 56 juvenile offenders listed as having escaped from youth group homes, and it's easy to see why police in the nation's capital have their hands full. A city with 154 fugitives from justice is not a city that can call itself safe.

This newspaper has spent the past decade reporting and commenting on the continued threat posed to public safety by D.C. halfway house escapees. The record is replete with cases of individuals assigned to halfway houses who simply walk away or fail to return while out on a pass for an approved activity, and then end up charged with new offenses while free. Our request for information concerning the current list of fugitives -- their alleged offenses, dates that warrants were issued, whether the assignments were court-ordered -- is still being processed by the D.C. Department of Corrections. That nearly 100 halfway house inmates are still at large, however, is no information to sit on.

It's equally disturbing to hear Corrections Department spokesman William Meeks say that his department is "no longer in the halfway house business." While it is true that the Corrections Department no longer operates its own halfway houses, it is equally true that the department contracts with four community organizations in the District to provide halfway houses and beds for 121 inmates. It is from these community organizations that offenders are escaping. The Corrections Department, as contractor, cannot wash its hands of the problem. The focus, on the other hand, is not limited to the executive branch of the city government. Most of the inmates have been ordered into the halfway houses by the courts. A review of their records is essential to determine whether the placements of those who have fled were warranted in the first place. In short, no aspect of this problem can be allowed to go unaddressed. From corrections to the courts, the public needs answers as to how to end this threat to public safety.