- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 11, 2005

Overcrowding at the D.C. Jail will worsen because the facility will have to house inmates who had been held in rented space nearby, a top city official says.

Citing a lack of funds, Deputy Mayor Edward D. Reiskin, in charge of public safety and justice issues, said last week that D.C. Jail officials no longer can rent prison space at nearby buildings and cannot fill 47 staff positions.

He estimated that the facility will have an average of 35 additional inmates daily and, “I am not sure how we will manage.”

The 30-year-old D.C. Jail employs 687 guards to watch as many as 2,498 inmates a month. Last year, a consultant recommended the jail hold no more than 2,160 inmates a month. Most are pre-trial defendants awaiting hearings and their numbers fluctuate as the courts deal with cases, officials said.

S. Elwood York Jr., interim director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, said the expected overcrowding at the jail will make it more difficult to receive federal accreditation from the American Correctional Association at the end of 2007. A city law enacted last year to improve the jail requires the accreditation.

The administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams has been at odds with the D.C. Council over funding for the city’s prison system.

Last month, Mr. Williams, a Democrat, called for funding to increase the Corrections Department’s budget from $121 million this year to $142 million in fiscal 2006. The council cut his proposal to $138 million.

Council member Kathy Patterson drafted an improvement measure, which requires a smaller inmate population. In passing it, the council was responding to a spate of stabbings in the jail in December 2002 that were blamed in part on overcrowding.

The D.C. Jail Improvement Act, which authorized a consultant to determine the maximum inmate population, also directs officials to implement a classification system and housing plan for inmates and requires the Health Department to conduct jail inspections. Mrs. Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, said she expects the Williams administration “to obey the law.”

“They have been out of compliance for more than a year,” she said. “What is at risk today, in addition to the health and safety of individual prisoners and staff, is the status of the District of Columbia government as an entity moving away from court supervision.”

In June 2002, the jail emerged from a 17-year-old, court-ordered limit of 1,670 inmates. The number of inmates immediately increased to more than 2,000 a month.

Mr. York said the council’s trimming of the department’s budget request by $4 million places the facility in a precarious position.

“You have actually handcuffed me in providing the services the inmates really need,” he said, citing such potential cutbacks as escorting prisoners and psychological services.

The corrections department oversees the jail, 121 beds in halfway houses in the city and a jail treatment facility, which is contracted out to the Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America. The city turns over to the federal government its most-violent offenders, who then are assigned to federal prisons around the country.

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