District Mayor Marion Barry lashed out yesterday at a federal judge's ruling that establishes for the first time a limit on the D.C. Jail inmate population, asserting that the order raises the specter of inmates emptying into the streets of the city.
"I don't see how we can get 1,000 people out of the D.C. Jail," he said. "If we have to let prisoners on the street, criminals on the street, that is the judge's responsibility . . . . I did not make this decision. I don't like it. I don't want it."
U.S. District Court Judge William B. Bryant on Monday ordered the city to send no new prisoners to the jail after Aug. 22 unless the inmate population is cut to 1,693. The jail held 2,561 inmates yesterday. Unless the city makes the court-ordered reduction, it will not be able to place pretrial detainees and convicted persons in the jail.
Bryant's order is the latest action in a legal tangle dating to 1971, when a lawsuit claiming crowded conditions was filed on behalf of jail inmates. Since then, at least four other major inmate suits have been brought over conditions at the jail and the District's Lorton Reformatory in Fairfax County.
In October 1983, Barry was held in contempt of court for failing to comply with an order by Bryant to reduce crowding. The city later satisfied the order, which set restrictions on the practice of holding pretrial detainees two to a cell. But with the number of inmates continuing to rise since then, the judge on Monday took a step beyond his previous orders in the case and established a ceiling on the jail population.
The Barry administration, caught between rising court referrals of inmates and suits that call for relief from crowding, has made a turnabout in recent months and supports the federally financed construction of a new prison in the District.
Building a new prison remains controversial, however, and Barry said he had trouble finding seven persons to fill his slots on the Correctional Facility Study Commission, the body that will examine possible sites for a new institution.
"I have had so many people turn me down on this prison commission," he said. "People say, 'I don't want to be in front of this one.' They say, 'Mayor, you take this one yourself.' "
Late yesterday, city officials announced that the commission has been filled, including the mayor's seven appointees and the City Council's eight.
Barry, citing public sentiment to crack down on crime, appeared ex- asperated with the political cross fire. "On the one hand, some people say, 'Why don't you lock them up and put them in jail?' On the other hand, they say, 'We don't want a prison in the District of Columbia,' " he said. "You can't have it both ways."
The Bryant order cited crowding, filthy conditions, poor maintenance and a 48 percent increase in violent incidents reported in the past year. The judge, who is on vacation and could not be reached, said the jail's population rose 21 percent in that time and called the city's efforts to solve the jail's problems "sporadic and largely unproductive."
The mayor denied several of the judge's assertions, saying the jail cells are clean and the conditions are acceptable. Barry said the surge in prison population is beyond the control of his administration and is attributable to increasing numbers of arrests and convictions and to longer sentences.
T.J. Reardon III, speaking for the U.S. attorney's office, agreed that these factors have caused the increase in the jail population, and he praised Barry for his support of a new prison.
"I think the crisis in this community is the short-term crunch," Reardon said. "What do you do between now and then?"
A result of inmate population growth, according to Reardon and others, has been the presence in the city jail of many convicted prisoners who should go to Lorton. About 710 sentenced felons at the jail cannot be transferred to Lorton because of caps on the population in the facilities there.
The problem of prison crowding is a national one, and court-ordered limits on inmate population have resulted in early releases in many states, including Maryland. Although Barry declined to specify what measures his administration might take to cut the jail population, he said the early release of misdemeanants with short terms remaining was a possibility.
Police Chief Maurice T. Turner, however, issued a statement yesterday citing his concern that "allowing convicted criminals to be set free due to overcrowding would only serve to weaken the very fabric of our judicial system." Turner said the judge's decision will not deter police from arresting criminals.
Bernard Demczuk, an official of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents corrections workers, praised the judge's ruling and suggested construction of temporary housing at Lorton. Barry, however, seemed to discount that possibility.
The Rev. Edward A. Hailes Sr., D.C. chairman of the NAACP, heads a list of 15 persons named to the Correctional Facility Study Commission. The other members are:
Barry appointees Frank Bolden, president of the Federation of Civic Associations; Joslyn Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO; the Rev. Eugene A. Marino, regional bishop for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington; Cedric Hendricks, legislative assistant to Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.); Sheila Basey, vice president of the Self-Help Center for Female Ex-Offenders, and Lois Rice, senior vice president of Control Data Corp.
City Council appointees Phinis Jones; Theresa H. Jones; William P. Lightfoot Jr.; Albert Long; Lois Smith Owens; Rimsky Atkinson, cochairman of the Citizens Advisory Commission of the D.C. Bar; Margaret Nolan, executive director of the Washington Correctional Foundation, and Alvin Bronstein, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project.
Several criminal justice officials will serve as ex-officio members of the commission