- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

A petition drive began yesterday in a downtown Georgetown church, after speakers charged that prisoners were being mistreated in the crowded D.C. jail.

When the drive is completed, the petitions will be presented to Mayor A. Anthony Williams, said Philip Fornaci, executive director of the Prisoners’ Legal Services Project.

“We’re talking about a facility that’s pretty much out of control,” Mr. Fornaci told visitors and members of Grace Episcopal Church on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

“We want a D.C. jail run by the D.C. government,” said Mr. Fornaci. He said 40 percent of the inmates in the jail are at risk because they suffer serious medical problems.

The Rev. Nancy C. James, an associate priest at Grace Episcopal, worked for one year in the D.C. correctional system, mostly the women’s jail, while studying for her divinity degree. She also worked at Lorton Reformatory.

“It’s horrific. It’s a disgrace to our city,” she said. “They need to build another facility and get some treatment for drug victims.”

Inmates and corrections officers have been accused of sexually abusing women, she said, but an inmate grievances board, which is supposed to hear inmate complaints every three months, has not convened for two years.

A year ago, a consultant recommended that the 30-year-old jail should hold no more than 2,160 inmates a month. Instead, 687 guards watch over as many as 2,498 prisoners.

About 65 percent of the inmates are awaiting trial. Others have been convicted and are waiting for transfer orders to one of the 105 federal prisons throughout the United States. Convicted D.C. criminals serve sentences in federal prisons.

The D.C. Council enacted a law last year requiring improvements for the corrections system in an effort to win accreditation from the American Correctional Association.

Last month, Mr. Williams, a Democrat, requested that the Corrections Department budget be increased from $121 million this year to $142 million next fiscal year. The council cut that requested increase to $138 million.

Grace Episcopal speakers accused the city of ignoring violations at the jail.

That includes release of prisoners, who often are released after the 10 p.m. deadline, wearing blue jailhouse suits, and without money, identification or a residence.

Inmates charged with violent crimes mix with inmates, mostly homeless, charged with minor violations. Visitors sometimes have to wait for several hours before they can see inmates, speakers said.

Mr. Fornaci said there is a “high prevalence of HIV and hepatitis for which they need medication.” Crowding often means at least two inmates in a single 7-by-12-foot cell. Often, they remain in the cell for 16 hours a day.

The Rev. John Graham said, “Direct the attention of our mayor, Anthony, and those who serve with him, to the abusive and illegal treatment of those held in the District of Columbia Jail, and to the welfare and security of the communities to which those now incarcerated with return.”

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