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D.C.’s inmate population swells in ‘clogged’ system

(Published June 28, 1999)


Staff Writer

Some D.C. inmates who have been granted parole remain behind bars after their established release date due to bureaucratic errors and missing documents, according to the U.S. Parole Commission, which has controlled D.C.’s parole system since August.

"It appears to be a common occurrence that parole release dates are established by the Commission but the prisoner is not in the community on the date ordered," said Marie Ragghianti, chief of staff of the commission. "The exact number of these cases is impossible for us to determine and frequently we do not hear about this until the inmate or a family member contacts us."

When former mayor Marion Barry visited D.C. inmates in Youngstown, Ohio, about two months ago, he was greeted by inmates who showed him their parole letters and asked for his help in getting out, said an aide who accompanied Barry.

Criminal justice officials say they are not surprised at such anecdotal evidence.

D.C. Corrections Trustee John Clark said parole problems are part of the reason D.C.’s inmate population has swelled by 1,000 in the past 18 months.

"People are not getting out of the system," he said. "The drain is clogged."

Ragghianti said the delay is caused by two factors: incomplete paperwork from the D.C. Department of Corrections and the "helter-skelter" transfer of inmates among facilities all over the country.

"We’ve had a lot of problems with D.C. inmates being transferred from facility to facility and state to state. We go to the facility and the inmate has been moved or send letters and the inmate is no longer there," she said.

There is no provision for forwarding mail or notifying the parole commission when inmates are moved, she said.

"Nobody at D.C. Corrections seems to really know where everybody is at any given time," she said. "There isn’t a clearinghouse. There isn’t a focal point."

An added problem is that as the city’s Lorton, Va., prison shuts down, fewer experienced employees are available to handle parole paperwork, said Tom Kowalski, case operations administrator for the commission. Some paperwork may be lost, since file security was breached in the past, he added.

Darryl Madden, spokes-man for the D.C. Department of Corrections, said no information was immediately available on any inmates whose hearings or release dates may be delayed.

The U.S. Parole Commission, which assumed control of the D.C. parole system in August 1998 under the Revitalization Act, has held about 2,060 parole hearings for D.C. inmates since then. About 40 percent resulted in parole being granted, according to the commission. But some of the parolees may still be doing time.

"You feel a wave of sympathy for the families," Ragghianti said. "The inmates are suffering the brunt of a lot of systemic problems."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator