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Replace Odie Washington

(Published October 7, 2002)

How many more horror stories need to emanate from the D.C. Jail before Mayor Anthony A. Williams realizes that Department of Corrections Director Odie Washington apparently is incapable of fixing the longstanding problems there?

Despite some improvements that Washington has made during his tenure, it seems nobody can accurately match up paperwork with people to ensure that the right people are in jail and that the wrong people aren't released into the community.

Isn't that, basically, what running a jail is all about?

On Washington's watch, several "get-out-of-jail-free" cards have mistakenly been handed to felons and accused felons who should have been incarcerated - including one prisoner who was considered a threat to the President.

Now comes the D.C. inspector general's report and court records that show at least 79 inmates, between May and August of this year, were kept behind bars at the D.C. Jail for either days or months beyond the length of their court-ordered sentences. Former inmates have filed suit in federal court, asking that the jail's records office be placed in receivership.

Operations at the D.C. Jail are in chaos. It shouldn't take a federal court order to correct the problems.

In fairness to the current corrections department director, he walked into chaos when he accepted the $130,000-a-year job in March 1999. But it shouldn't take more than three years on the job to whip the jail's operations into shape. Old-fashioned manual record keeping, unassisted by the department's labor-saving computers, should have been able to accurately account for prisoners by now.

Odie Washington's skills - quite obviously - are not up to the job that needs to be done. It's time for him to go. Mayor Williams should replace him immediately.

It is intolerable - repeat, intolerable - for the D.C. government to be routinely keeping people locked up in jail after they have served their time. It is equally intolerable for the D.C. government to be releasing potentially dangerous felons into the community because - oops! - somebody mixed up their paperwork.

One time can be a mistake. For these occurrences to be as frequent as they are indicates that the entire operation of the D.C. Jail needs a major overhaul.

This problem doesn't require a high-tech solution, which seems to be taking baby steps toward improving the situation. Resolving this problem requires government workers - from the top on down - who can read, write and count. Computers aren't causing this problem.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator