Correctional Officer Lynn A. Ware was nervous. D.C. jail Administrator William M. Plaut had summoned him for a meeting and Ware knew what Plaut wanted to talk about: Ware's string of unexcused absences.

As Ware walked toward Plaut's carpeted office on the jail's first floor that day in January 1989, he did not think that Plaut knew the reason for his absences -- that he had been a crack addict for almost a year and had abused other drugs since 1985. Even if Plaut suspected the truth, Ware did not anticipate that Plaut would say anything. That just wasn't the way things were usually done at the jail.

"What's the problem? What's the problem?" Plaut asked as soon as Ware arrived. "Cocaine? Cocaine?"

Startled, Ware stammered, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

Sgt. Edward Martinez, a union steward who had accompanied Ware to the meeting, quickly interjected, "Well, I can make a call. We can get him into a {drug treatment} program today."

By 10 that night, Ware, then 38, was a patient at a drug rehabilitation center in Montgomery County.

Such dramatic confrontations rarely take place at the jail. Some officers interviewed said that jail supervisors often overlook obvious symptoms of drug abuse, such as falling asleep on duty or repeatedly leaving a post during a shift.

But jail officials said in interviews that their efforts to curb drug abuse are hindered by restrictive personnel rules. They said they have been advised to pursue suspected drug abusers on grounds that are easier to document than drug use: repeated absences, abuse of sick leave, dereliction of duty.

Plaut, who was jail administrator from September 1987 to June 1989, said the jail's staff frequently suggested that he try to force drug abusers into treatment by threatening to fire them. Plaut said he used this approach several times. "I would do anything I could one time," he said. "If the employee came out after 28, 30 days {of treatment} and came back and went afoul again, then as far as I was concerned, it was 'Adios.' "

But when Ware returned to the jail after two weeks of treatment in January 1989, no one kept up with him to see how he was doing, he said. As a result, he said, no one knew that he went back to smoking crack the same night he left the treatment center.

Over the next several months, Ware followed the same pattern that had led to his confrontation with Plaut. Between April 9 and Aug. 12, 1989, he was absent without leave for 30 working days, according to jail records.

In November, the Department of Corrections notified Ware that he was being fired. "Your absence caused undue hardship on your co-workers and supervisors," wrote Plaut, in his new role as the department's associate director for institutions. "Unless all posts are properly manned, security at the facility is compromised."

Plaut's letter, which spelled out Ware's right to appeal, also cited two instances in which Ware had been warned about his abuse of sick leave. The letter said nothing about Plaut's confrontation with Ware or drug use, referring only to Ware's "personal problems."

On March 19, Ware's firing became final.'We Don't Have That Avenue'

The city's personnel system doesn't give jail administrators a quick or easy way to deal with drug-abusing officers. Documenting unexcused absences takes months; waiting for dereliction of duty is a long-range gamble; tolerating abuse of sick leave puts pressure on other officers and hurts morale.

Generally, Corrections officials say the answer lies in some form of drug testing. "The only sure-fire way to find out if somebody has a drug abuse problem is to either get a urine sample or a blood sample," Plaut said. "We don't have that latitude. We don't have that avenue."

At present, the Department of Corrections limits drug testing to applicants, who are notified two weeks before the testing day. Some experts believe that notice makes it easier for applicants to stop using drugs just long enough to evade detection.

When Kimberly Morris applied to the department in 1986, applicants were not notified in advance. But she said a relative working in the D.C. personnel office warned her that she would be tested. "I had eight days from the letter," Morris said, who was using PCP at the time. "I worked so hard those eight days. I jogged. I ran. I drank vinegar, cranberry juice, water."

She passed. Her regimen may have made the difference, but it's hard to determine; PCP, if used regularly, can stay in the body for more than a week, depending on the user's metabolism. Experts say that drinking a lot of fluids can dilute concentrations to undetectable levels.

Corrections officials disagree about how far to go with drug testing. David D. Roach, who succeeded Plaut as jail administrator, said supervisors should have the authority to demand urine samples if officers exhibit signs of drug use. Plaut said supervisors should not have that much power. "Just to say, carte blanche, that if a guy shows up at roll call and his eyes are bloodshot and that supervisor can say, 'Go take a urinalysis,' no," Plaut said. "But a system, a vehicle, absolutely. It's desperately needed."

The New York City Correction Department has taken strong steps to counteract rising drug abuse among its officers. In 1986, it adopted a "reasonable suspicion" policy that allowed supervisors to detain employees for testing if they observed specific behaviors: dilated pupils, incoherent speech, abuse of sick leave, unexcused absences or inattention to duty.

Last month, New York's highest court said this "aggressive" approach had "failed to stem the tide" of drug abuse and gave its go-ahead for random drug testing of 15 percent of the correctional force each year.

D.C. Corrections officials have discussed a possible drug testing program with the union that represents the officers at the jail and the seven D.C. prisons in Lorton. Both sides say they favor some kind of program.

"My position is that they should only be tested for probable cause," said Eddie Kornegay, president of Teamsters Local 1714, which represents 2,500 corrections workers, including 650 at the jail. "Probable cause can be their behavior on duty. Probable cause can be sick leave abuse. It's going to have to be spelled out . . . . "

"I don't want the Department to throw in a random testing procedure and not do all the other things that are necessary to make sure we get good officers." 'Disheveled and Glassy-Eyed'

The symptoms of Ware's drug abuse began to show themselves long before his repeated absences in 1988; jail records show that something was wrong as early as Sept. 20, 1987, when Ware fell asleep just minutes after arriving for work that Sunday afternoon.

Ware was assigned to his usual post in the Receiving and Discharge control center, one of the busiest and most demanding jobs at the jail. As R&D control officer, Ware was responsible for checking inmates entering and leaving the building; supervisors rely on R&D control to give them -- on demand -- a precise count of all prisoners at any time. For that reason, only the most reliable officers are posted there.

At 3 p.m., Ware arrived, locking himself inside the control room as required. At 3:35 p.m., Capt. Barbara Marshall could not get any response when she buzzed Ware to let her in, according to the report she filed later.

Peering inside the thick plexiglass windows of R&D control, Marshall and Lt. Alvin Edwards could see Ware seated upright in a chair, his head tilted and his eyes closed. They banged on the windows with their keys and hands. "We even loudly rattled the door," Marshall wrote.

Unable to rouse Ware, Edwards stuck the hose of a water-based fire extinguisher into a slot under the window and sprayed Ware in the face. Now awake but dazed, Ware unlocked the door. "What's up?" he said.

"What's the problem?" Marshall said.

"There's no problem," Ware replied. "I'm just tired."

Marshall removed Ware from his post. "Officer Ware had a disheveled appearance and appeared glassy-eyed," she wrote.

According to officers interviewed, this incident triggered speculation that Ware was abusing drugs. They didn't know that Ware had a $200-a-day "speedball" habit -- injecting himself with a mixture of heroin and cocaine -- that began in 1985. Nor, he said, did they know he was living with a drug-addicted prostitute he had logged in one day while working R&D control. "When she got out {of the jail}, I set her up in an apartment," Ware said.

They did notice, however, when Ware began wearing long-sleeve shirts in the summer, even on humid August days, to cover the track marks on his arms.

His supervisors noticed something else too. "Every time we got a new load of prisoners in, half of them knew me," Ware said. One day, a captain pointedly asked him: "How come you know every {inmate} that comes through" here?

In the spring of 1988, Ware decided to kick his speedball habit. While struggling with the pain of withdrawal, though, he began using crack. Sometimes, he got so high he couldn't work. "That's why I went AWOL," he said. "I didn't come {to work} when I couldn't function."

His drug use was so well-known that when a reporter and a photographer from The Washington Post were visiting the jail one day in 1988, an officer escorting them pointed at Ware and said: "See that officer? He's a junkie."

During an interview in January, before his firing became final, Ware was asked if he thought he would always be strung out on drugs.

"I'm not strung out," Ware replied. "I don't think that I'm strung out!"

Did he think he would use drugs permanently?

"Yes," Ware replied, nodding his head. "Something."

NEXT: Coming back from addiction