For the last several years, some key security posts at the crowded D.C. jail have been left in the hands of correctional officers addicted to drugs.

Drug-abusing officers can be found on any level of the massive three-story, red concrete building at 19th and D streets SE, known formally as the D.C. Detention Facility. Some come to work strung out. Others wait until their lunch break, make a hurried run to one of the District's drug markets and then find a safe place to get high before reporting back. Some officers, once their shifts end, head to hideaways for all-night binges.

Former correctional officer Dora Hall, 32, said her crack addiction became so debilitating that she sometimes fell asleep on the overnight shift in cellblock Southwest-1, where she and another officer were assigned to watch 120 or so women prisoners.

After seeking treatment in 1988, she quit the jail to get away from other drug-abusing officers, afraid that the temptation to use drugs again would be too great.

Former correctional officer Kelly Marie Peeler, 45, a recovering addict, said she used cocaine nearly every day while working in several of the jail's 18 cellblocks. After work, she sold drugs from her apartment on Bowen Street SE; as many as 25 officers a week, some still in uniform, came there to buy and use crack cocaine, she said. In November 1986, Peeler quit her job without giving notice.

Sgt. Edward Martinez, 41, a 20-year heroin and cocaine addict until he kicked his habit in 1985, said he bought drugs from dealers who later -- to his horror -- turned up as prisoners under his control in cellblock Northeast-3. One of those dealers was Kelly Peeler's son, Nathaniel Peeler Jr. Since going into treatment, Martinez has a new role at the jail: helping officials get drug-addicted officers into treatment.

Officials at the D.C. Department of Corrections say drug abuse at the jail, fueled by the introduction of crack cocaine to Washington in the mid-1980s, is a growing and disturbing phenomenon that took them by surprise. "I think that Corrections, like the rest of this country, was blindsided by this drug epidemic," said Walter B. Ridley, the director of the department. "We were ill-prepared to deal with it. We're just now really getting enough momentum to start dealing with it . . . . This is a serious, serious problem we're encountering."

At the same time, Ridley and others strongly disputed any suggestion of disproportionate drug use among the jail's 600-member officer corps, saying the total is no more than 5 percent of the force and probably much lower. "I tend to believe it is a very, very small percentage," he said, no greater than the level in other government agencies.

Their views are at odds with those of union officials at Teamsters Local 1714, which represents the officers. Eddie Kornegay, president of the local, said he believes one of four officers at the jail is abusing drugs or alcohol or both. David N. Tinsley, the union official who works most closely with jail officers, said he believes the figure is higher. He said that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of officers facing disciplinary action for dereliction of duty, repeated absences and abuse of sick leave -- and that those officers confess to him that their real problem is drug addiction.

"It's not uncommon to see officers come to work incoherent every day, either high or drunk," said Tinsley, who spent nine years as an officer in the jail's cellblocks before taking the union post.

During the last two years, The Washington Post has conducted an in-depth examination of drug use at the D.C. jail, interviewing 65 current and former employees at length. Corrections officials allowed a reporter to move freely throughout much of the jail; before publication, The Post discussed its findings with the three men who ran the jail during that period and with three top officials at the Department of Corrections.

Seven current and former jail employees agreed to speak publicly about their drug use; they said they hope their accounts will benefit others and reverse the trend they see at the jail. Six others acknowledged that they were drug abusers but declined to be named in this series of articles. Those 13 employees named 24 other officers with whom they used drugs, including four middle-ranking supervisors.

Four other officers have faced criminal drug charges since 1987.

The drug abuse problem has remained largely hidden from those outside the system. It has not resulted in any major security breaks. No escapes occurred because an addicted officer fell asleep on duty or failed to respond to an emergency. Dedicated, drug-free officers play dominant roles on the jail's staff; each day, usually without incident, they supervise the daunting task of receiving and transporting hundreds of prisoners. On court days, the cycle starts at 3:30 a.m., when officers on duty in the 18 cellblocks wake 1,700 prisoners for breakfast; it doesn't end until after 11:30 p.m., when the prisoners are in bed. It is highly stressful, repetitive work -- the kind of environment where alcohol and drug abuse can flourish.

A deep split has developed between officers who do not use drugs -- the majority of the force -- and those who do. The nonusers say addicted officers act in ways that endanger themselves, their fellow officers and the jail's overall security. It is an environment that breeds suspicion and distrust. Sgt. Cynthia Bush said she prefers assignments where she can work alone to avoid the extra danger of having an impaired officer as a partner, particularly inside the cellblocks.

Jail employees said the proliferating drug use has become an ingrained part of the jail's operation, a kind of separate culture, much the way drugs have become an ingrained problem in certain D.C. neighborhoods. "Our people come from the community," said the Rev. Alfred N. Minor, who has counseled drug-abusing officers as the jail's Protestant chaplain. "They're not picked out of some immaculate birthplace of corrections officers and staff. All of the joys and pains that exist in the community come right in here too."

Many newly hired officers come to the jail with drug-use histories; some are active users who say they stop just long enough to evade the Department of Corrections's drug-screening test for applicants. "These are not officers who became drug dealers," said Capt. Isaiah Webb, a jail supervisor until recently. "We have hired drug dealers as officers."Misplaced Loyalty

Officers describe a telltale cycle: At first, drug-using officers work overtime to support their habits. When that money proves insufficient, they borrow money from other officers. Finding it impossible to juggle this double life, they frequently fail to show up for work, leaving the jail understaffed. Former correctional officer Lynn A. Ware said he sought to work overtime as often as possible to pay for his $200-a-day drug habit. He also changed his withholding status so that no taxes were being withheld and stopped paying child support for his son. He ended up owing $32,000 to the Internal Revenue Service and $10,000 in child support.

A few addicted officers, driven by their habits, smuggle drugs to inmates and accept drugs or cash as payment, according to officers interviewed. Tinsley said it's "a small percentage . . . about 2 or 3 percent."

Several officers said it is common for some officers to smoke crack and drink liquor in their cars and vans on parking lots around the jail. Sgt. Martinez said he noticed a familiar pattern when he did a tour of duty in 1988 in the jail's tower: From his vantage point above the parking lot, he watched the same officer come out of the staff entrance several times a night, walk across the lot and get into his car. For the next several minutes, Martinez saw the steady glow of a butane lighter -- a sign, he said, of someone melting a rock of crack inside a pipe.

Several officers said their colleagues protect drug-abusing officers out of a sense of loyalty, a common problem in paramilitary organizations such as the jail. Tinsley did it himself when he was working in the cellblocks. "I have covered for another officer when he was drunk or high on drugs so many times, I can't count the times . . . . I did it because I do not ever want to feel responsible for a person losing their job," he said.

Tinsley said he has found himself representing the same officers again and again in disciplinary proceedings, preserving their jobs and in effect ensuring their continued drug use. "Eighty percent of the people we represent are guilty as charged," Tinsley said. "I know they aren't worth a damn {as correctional officers} . . . . I was disgusted with the kind of people I was representing, but I had a responsibility of trying to see that these people were retained."

The department has no way of knowing precisely how many officers are abusing drugs. Employees do not have to tell their supervisors when they seek treatment, unless it requires taking more than 14 days off, and the department's drug testing is limited to applicants.

On occasion, top jail administrators have confronted officers they suspected of drug use. But for the most part, corrections officials said, personnel rules and procedures actually discourage them from confronting and firing drug-abusing officers. "The personnel rules are such that unless you can tie drug use to on-duty conduct, there is really no grounds for dismissal," said Hallem H. Williams Jr., director of Corrections from December 1986 until June 1989.

At the same time, jail officials stressed that they must balance the employee's rights and the department's needs. "Although you are appalled at what you observed and it strikes right at the fiber of your being as a professional security person, that's something you have to live with because you have to go through the process," said David D. Roach, the jail's administrator.

Roach and other officials said their legal advisers have told them to pursue suspected drug abusers on grounds that are easier to prove: unexcused absences, abuse of sick leave, abandoning a post. "Historically, drug abusers are not very dependable as far as coming to work," said William M. Plaut, who ran the jail from September 1987 to June 1989. "That's the barometer I used as an administrator to try and identify" them.

This approach has a major disadvantage: It allows the drug user to remain on the job, sometimes for months. It also means the department has no record of any drug use if the dismissed officer reapplies to the department.

D.C. personnel rules also do not permit the department to fire officers convicted of misdemeanor offenses. The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled last year that the regulations clearly state that the crime must be a felony. Generally, misdemeanors are lesser crimes involving sentences not exceeding a year in jail, such as the possession of a small quantity of drugs.

The appeals court case involved Woodie C. Head Jr., a jail officer who had pleaded guilty in 1983 to the misdemeanor assault of a former inmate in an argument over a $20 heroin purchase at 13th and W streets NW. The department fired him after his conviction; the Court of Appeals ordered him reinstated, six years after the arrest.

The court majority said: "We are not unsympathetic to the department's desire to fire Head. We know that the department has the difficult and important task of maintaining discipline and security in the District's correctional system, and we understand why the deparment would not want in its employ a correctional officer who in his off-duty hours participated with a former inmate in buying heroin and then assaulted the ex-inmate with a hammer handle.

"Nevertheless . . . the statute and the legislative history speak plainly. They tell us the {D.C.} Council did not intend such conduct by a correctional officer to be a ground for dismissal. If this result seems unsatisfactory, then it is up to the council to amend the statute."

While Head's appeal was pending, he was arrested in 1987 and pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of attempted possession of heroin, he said in a recent interview. He went back to work at the jail a year ago, and said he has stopped using drugs.

While Head's case was moving through the system, the department was faced with the question of how to handle another officer's arrest. In 1987, D.C. police charged Lt. Reginald W. Johnson, a jail supervisor, with two misdemeanor drug offenses after finding cocaine in a beer can during a search of his van. Johnson pleaded guilty to attempted possession of cocaine under a first-offender law that expunged his record after he completed six months' probation.

After Johnson's arrest, he was transferred temporarily to a post at Lorton, where the Department of Corrections has some administrative offices and runs seven prisons; after the case was resolved, he returned to work at the jail, where he comes in contact with prisoners charged with similar offenses.

In an interview, Johnson said he pleaded guilty only because he felt he could not establish his innocence. He said he had no idea how the cocaine got in the beer can, speculating that it belonged to a female hitchhiker he had picked up earlier that day. "I was caught up in something I could not get out of," he said. "It was a ridiculous thing."

Aside from personnel rules, other problems complicate the department's effort to curb drug use. For example:There is constant turnover at all levels, including the top; since 1987, three men have held the job of jail administrator -- Bernard L. Braxton, Plaut and Roach, who took over in June last year. Supervisors juggle assignments frequently, trying to cover for officers who don't show up for work. Sometimes, they allow officers who come to work in a shaky condition to continue working, according to officers interviewed. "They'll take a chance and work and hope that nothing happens," Tinsley said. "They'll do whatever they have to do to keep that body there." The department has difficulty recruiting and keeping officers. On occasion, applicants with spotty backgrounds slip through the department's screening procedures. Investigators are assigned to do background checks, but often have too many applications to do more than cursory examinations. Sexual relationships, often tied to drug use, are a significant fact of life among some officers at the jail. In addition to liasions between officers, in which sex is sometimes bartered for drugs, some officers have arranged to meet former inmates outside the jail for sexual trysts, according to several officers interviewed.

Some higher-ranking officers say they have tried to call attention to the escalating drug use, but pointed out that it is difficult for the department to act without gathering hard evidence, a time-consuming and frustrating task.

"I would be remiss to walk around saying there's a significant drug problem, even though I suspect there is. I don't state my suspicions as fact," said Capt. Webb, who assigned officers to day shift posts until his transfer in February to a new job. "What are the facts? We have high absenteeism. We have officers who come to work and nod off. We have officers who use bizarre and outlandish reasons for not coming to work. We've made people aware of that."

The drug use has become pervasive enough that it is chipping away at the buffer that separates the jailer and the jailed. Tinsley said inmates see a double standard:

"I've heard inmates say it 10 million times: 'Look at that officer supervising us. We're in here for what he's doing now. He has the audacity to tell us to go back to our cells. He's just as big an addict as we are.' "

NEXT: Drugs on duty

Formal name: D.C. Detention Facility

Opened: March 1976

Location: 1909 D St. SE. To the northeast, across Massachusetts Avenue SE, is D.C. General Hospital; to the east is the Anacostia River; to the west, as shown in the aerial photo at left, are Capitol Hill and the Washington Monument.

Purpose: Primarily to act as a detention center for defendants awaiting trial or on trial, but the inmate population also includes convicted prisoners awaiting sentencing, prisoners serving sentences at other prisons who have been sent to Washington for court proceedings, and prisoners serving work-release sentences. Pretrial inmates wear orange jumpsuits; convicted inmates wear light-blue jumpsuits.

Staff: About 650 employees, including about 600 uniformed officers. Starting salary for officers, $21,635. Other employees include mental health workers, medical personnel and clerical workers.

Inmate population: Court-ordered ceiling of 1,694, about 75 percent male and 25 percent female. Pretrial inmates, 41 percent; convicted inmates, 56 percent; juveniles, 3 percent.

SOURCE: D.C. Department Of Corrections