I am heartened to know that George Walsh, the U.S. marshal for the District and Edward D. Reiskin, the deputy mayor for public safety and justice, acknowledge that the D.C. jail is overcrowded [news story, July 7]. Judith Miller was sent instead to the Alexandria jail, which has, by all accounts, much better and safer facilities.

The average D.C. inmate, who is poor, black and not a New York Times reporter, deserves the same consideration. Instead, every day, ordinary people are stuffed into the D.C. jail and forced to deal with the inhumane violence, lack of rehabilitative programming or drug treatment, and a medical system that's stressed-to-the-breaking-point.

We know that with too many people crammed into too little space with too few staffers, there are serious delays in securing medical care, controlling outbreaks of communicable conditions and securing mental health services of any kind. Also, the chaotic situation leaves the facility chronically short on such basic supplies as personal hygiene products. People there are housed in twos in 7-by-10-foot cells. Outdoor recreation is limited to 30 minutes three times a week.

On June 29, the D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project and the law firm of Wiley, Rein & Fielding filed suit in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of seven inmates to force Mayor Anthony A. Williams to comply with the D.C. Jail Improvement Act of 2003. They are asking the court to order the mayor to obey the law and set a limit on the number of inmates who can be held at the dangerously overcrowded jail.

Until the D.C. government, and particularly the executive branch, take seriously their responsibilities not only under the Jail Improvement Act but also as guardian of public safety and human rights, the conditions will continue to deteriorate. The District should demand that same respect for our average citizens that is given to figures of national prominence.



The writer is an attorney with the D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project.