- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2003

People who have never visited a jail probably know that inmates often fashion their own weapons by sharpening such items as toothbrushes and broomsticks for use in stabbings. Guards are supposed to be on the lookout for such weapons, but, if security is lax, as it obviously has been at the D.C. Jail, then inmates can get their hands on real knives and machetes — even guns. The security breeches present an opportunity to the mayor to institute security reforms at its detention centers.

D.C. authorities are trying to determine how an inmate got his hands on a small-caliber handgun last Saturday, shot four inmates and tossed the gun in a trash can before being nabbed inside the jail. The entire jail was locked down, to the disappointment of the guards this holiday week.

But the guards, who are not armed, brought the problem upon themselves because someone among their ranks clearly was not paying full time and attention to the inmates and the visitors. The only other possibility is that a guard brought the gun into the jail.

Last week’s shooting at the jail came less than three weeks after Mayor Tony Williams announced that Corrections Director Odie Washington would oversee security at the city’s troubled Oak Hill Detention Center. The move is a smart one because of the escapes, assaults and sundry offenses that occur with regularity at Oak Hill.

The security risks at the jail mean Mr. Washington must turn his immediate attention to handing up the stiffest sanctions possible on the guards. Oftentimes, such incidences lead policy-makers to draw up proposals that merely shuffle the deck and placate union leaders, who call for more training and larger salaries. The mayor and Mr. Washington, however, must toughen their resolve. Now is probably the time for both of them to consider privatizing security services at D.C. Jail and at Oak Hill.

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