New York Times reporter Judith Miller was not sent to the D.C. jail yesterday, in part because of the facility's crowding and reports of safety concerns, according to the U.S. marshal for the District.
Miller was confined to the Alexandria jail yesterday after her attorney, Bob Bennett, implored U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan to keep her out of the District's jail.
George Walsh, the U.S. marshal for the District, said he received "no instruction from the court to provide any special treatment." However, Walsh said, the conditions at the District jail were considered when the marshals service determined where to send Miller.
"There's been discussion that the D.C. jail is extremely overcrowded," Walsh said. "That's not the sole reason. . . . But it was one factor."
He described the Alexandria jail as an "established facility that has reasonable facilities for women. She'll be treated like any other person in the jail system here."
Earlier in court, Bennett had urged Hogan to take his client's well-being into "serious, serious consideration."
"The sad fact is D.C. jail is overcrowded," Bennett told the judge. "Ms. Miller's safety, I believe, would be in serious jeopardy."
Opened in 1976 near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, the D.C. jail has built a reputation as an unsafe, unsanitary facility teeming with inmates. A court-ordered population cap barred the jail from holding more than 1,674 prisoners, a limit that a federal judge lifted in 2002. The jail's population ballooned, and six months later two prisoners were killed and another was wounded in stabbings.
In 2004, the D.C. Council passed a law ordering Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the District Department of Corrections to set a new population cap for the jail. Seventeen months later, the mayor has failed to comply.
Yesterday, the jail housed 2,340 inmates, said William Meeks, a Corrections Department spokesman.
A prisoners' advocacy group last week sued the District, claiming that the crowding endangers inmates. "It's a mess, an inhumane, nightmarish, overcrowded mess," said Deborah Golden, a staff attorney for the D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project, which filed the suit on behalf of seven inmates.
Edward D. Reiskin, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said that the District has improved conditions at the jail, but that controlling the size of the population remains "more challenging."
"We would certainly say there are more people than we'd like to have," he said, adding that the District is exploring ways to relieve the crowding, possibly by sending prisoners to halfway houses and work-relief programs.
The Alexandria Detention Center, where Miller is confined, is viewed as a less onerous penal experience than the District jail, according to lawyers who visit inmates at both facilities.
"The Alexandria jail is newer than D.C. It's cleaner, it's nicer and it's probably safer," said Alan Yamamoto, an Alexandria defense lawyer. "The D.C. jail is just old and worn down."
The Virginia jail, near the Capital Beltway about a mile from Old Town Alexandria, is known for housing numerous high-profile inmates prosecuted at the nearby federal courthouse.
Through a special contract with the U.S. Marshals Service, the jail houses such federal inmates as Yamamoto's client, Zacarias Moussaoui, the first person convicted in the United States in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Other well-known guests have included convicted spy Robert Hanssen, who was bumped from his cell in early 2002 to smaller quarters to make way for Moussaoui; John Walker Lindh, the California man who was convicted of fighting for the Taliban; CIA spies Aldrich Ames and Harold James Nicholson; former United Way chief William Aramony; and political maverick Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.
In 1997, the jail had three spy suspects at once -- Nicholson, Robert C. Kim and Earl E. Pitts. Housed near one another, the three men apparently became cordial and were sometimes seen playing cards together in a day room.
Staff writer Jerry Markon contributed to this report.