- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

D.C. officials are dealing inmates a new deck of playing cards. But instead of pictures of kings and jacks, the cards have victims’ photos and details of recent unsolved cases.

The D.C. Department of Corrections - working with the Metropolitan Police Department - plans to distribute 500 decks in the city jail and its four halfway houses in the next two weeks. Officials hope inmates will use them, then offer tips on homicide and missing-person cases.

More cards will be ordered so that inmates can take them home when they are released.

The program will be a first for D.C. officials, who were impressed by its success in such states as California, Florida and New York.

Corrections Director Devon Brown said the cards are an extension of the jail’s educational-playing-card program, in which the city gives out decks printed with historical or scientific facts.

On the cards, players will find a color photo of a crime victim and a brief description of how they were killed or where they were last seen. The number for a tip hot line is featured in bold lettering.

The city hopes the reward of as much as $25,000 for information leading to a conviction, and the option to report confidentially, will encourage inmates to come forward.

Mr. Brown said targeting inmates for such information just makes sense.

“They’ve traveled the same streets … as many of the perpetrators of these acts,” he said. “It’s my belief they know them.”

Jail officials also want to sell the cards to the general public and plan to broadcast the unsolved crimes on the jail’s internal television system, Mr. Brown said.

In the past year, Florida has given out two editions of decks at its state prisons, with cards listing details on 104 unsolved cases that had become cold. The state recently released a third edition and expanded the distribution effort to county jails and probation offices.

Tips from inmates using the cards have helped in two murders, resulting in an arrest in one case and a conviction in the other, said Paula Bryant, a Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

“I think the two cases that were solved probably would not have been if we did not have the cards in play,” she said. “We’ve actually had victims’ families come to us and ask to have their family member, who was a victim, be put on the card.”

Dennis Sobin, an ex-inmate at the D.C. jail and federal facilities, said such programs could help inmates prove that they can be productive members of society. Mr. Sobin, now director of the D.C.-based Prisons Foundation, which promotes arts and education in prison, said the notion that criminals wouldn’t want to “snitch” on others is unfounded.

“We think there’s a lot of good people in prison who want to become good citizens, and why not start when they’re there?” he said. “I think this could be part of the process.”

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