Magazine article The Washington Monthly

The Worst City Government

Magazine article The Washington Monthly

The Worst City Government

Article excerpt

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. …

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