With a corrections department that has been in hot water with the courts for a good 15 years, Mayor Barry has decided it's time for a thorough reorganization of the agency -- and why not? Predictable critics, led these days on almost any subject by D.C. Council Chairman and maybe-mayoral-candidate David Clarke, have been quick to belittle the changes. "It's a lot of hoopla, a lot of paper," says Mr. Clarke. "I don't see much new other than the changing of players." Neither do we at this point, but given the awful state of affairs in the Corrections Department, a change of players couldn't hurt.

Then there's the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, whose appropriate persistence in representing inmates in the 15-year lawsuit won a court-ordered population ceiling at the D.C. Jail. "Merely shaking them around and giving them new titles does not address the need," says project director Alvin Bronstein, "which is to bring what is lacking -- outside expertise." He and some federal and city corrections officials have suggested that the realignment was an attempt by Mr. Barry to stave off the appointment of a special master to run the Central Facility at Lorton, as ordered by U.S. District Court Judge June L. Green. That's exactly what it should be -- unless everyone in the city is content to roll over and let the courts assume control of the prisons.

It is not as if the mayor has chosen tired or ignorant hacks for the top jobs. Hallem H. Williams Jr., named deputy director, has been a special assistant to City Administrator Thomas Downs and has served as a criminal justice and public safety planner with experience in administration. Walter Ridley, who will be associate director for correctional programs, wins high praise from some of the sharpest critics of past city policies, including Margaret Nolan, executive director of the Washington Correctional Foundation. Gladys W. Mack, currently the general assistant to the mayor and now named to succeed Mr. Ridley as chairman of the D.C. Parole Board, has served the Barry and Walter Washington administrations with distinction and integrity in every key job she has held.

These moves were coupled with an announcement by Mr. Barry of an initiative to provide a wide range of social services and counseling to juvenile offenders and their families, and of a commission to advise him on ways to combat the widespread use of the drug PCP.

Paper changes only? Maybe. But better to do something new, to acknowledge at least in this way that there is a mess to address. The local elected government should deal with it instead of abdicating responsibility to a judge. The responsibility remains, and should remain, the mayor's -- and if the changes prove nothing, he should be the one to blame.