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The worst city government.

The Worst City Government

If you thought the government of the Virgin Islands was unwise to hire personnel consultants from the D.C. government, think about China, In 1987, the People's Republic hosted Gwynne Washington, an assistant director of D.C.'s Department of Corrections, which last year allowed 18 escapes. Asking the District for advice on prison security is like asking Mother Teresa for tips on birth control.

The first lesson that D.O.C. officials might have offered is semantics. On the night of January 19, inmates at Lorton prison burned down the administration building. Many of us might call this a riot. Not Hallem Williams. "It was not a riot," said the director of corrections. "It was a fire with opportunistic vandalism and a murder. . . . "

"Our management is sound, said Williams. But a 1987 report by the National Institute of Corrections, a federal agency, found that Lorton guards had a habit of forgetting to lock the doors. It's no surprise, then, that three of the 18 escapees simply walked out. Our favorite: the armed robber who strolled out with his family as visiting hours ended. . . .

Nor does "sound management" leap to mind to describe the D.O.C.'s early release program to ease overcrowding. The delicate task of deciding which 800 inmates to return to the streets fell to low-level clerks with little training. "Nobody gave [us) any specific guidelines," one worker told The Washington It was catch-as-catch-can." Or can't.

It might have seemed logical for the parole board to make decisions about early release, but it was busy running a special rehabilitation program for excons-well, for one ex-con anyway: Mayor Marion Barry's ex-wife, who served time for defrauding tenants of a D.C. housing project. She was paid $28,000 for a three-month study of the needs of women inmates. . . .

The security at Lorton might seem impressive compared to that at Oak Hill, the District's maximum security facility for young offenders, run by the city's Youth Services Administration. In 1987, 25 percent of the inmates escaped, including two convicted of murder. Investigators from the U.S. Department of Education found that a $200,000 education program was "almost nonexistent." And this winter, a courtappointed monitor found the prison infested with rats and snakes and the inmates "entirely out of underwear."

Meanwhile, more than 6,000 city employees-roughly one in seven-make more than $40,000 a year, according to David Clarke, chairman of the D.C. city council. "Like those of us on perpetual diets know so well," he said, "obesity is often reflected by a bulging middle". . . .

Second place this month goes to Chicago, where, the Chicago Tribune reports, about $70 million in parking fines remain uncollected because the 11 city agencies that conerol them can't coordinate. But not to worry. Several city council members have proposed a new system-complete with a provision to grant themselves immunity from parking fines. . . .

-Katherine Boo
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Title Annotation:Washington, D.C.'s Department of Corrections
Author:Boo, Katherine
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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