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Department of Corrections Oversight Hearing On the June 3, 2006 Inmates' Escape from the Central Detention Facility (DC Jail)

Monday, June 26, 2006
Testimony of Devon Brown, Director Committee on the Judiciary of the Council of the District of Columbia Phil Mendelson, Chairman John A. Wilson Building 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20004

Good Morning Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee on the Judiciary.

I am Devon Brown, Director of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. Thank you for the opportunity to testify at this forum on the June 3 escapes from the Central Detention Facility.

As you will hopefully understand, my remarks relating to the specifics of the event must be limited due to two open investigations of the incident, one being conducted internally, the other being pursued by the US Attorney’s Office. As I have repeatedly emphasized, it is of paramount importance that we all respect this situation as I cannot speak to any issue that may compromise the integrity or course of these investigations. I am joined today by my Deputy Director Patricia Britton and Budget Director, Ron Peele.

The fundamental objectives of all correctional systems are order, safety and security. It is the responsibility of all government officials to ensure that these basic yet essential goals are met and that public safety is always viewed as the most important consideration. The Department of Corrections takes seriously its role in this endeavor and vigorously works to identify, address and abate issues that may compromise any component of its mission.

With respect to institutional security, the Department of Corrections experienced a major security breach on June 3 when two inmates escaped from the custody of the Central Detention Facility.

The Central Detention Facility, also referred to as the DC Jail, serves as the District’s primary correctional institution. On January 10, my first day on the job the jail count was 2,374 and today’s inmate population at the facility is 1807. As these numbers reflect, there has been a significant decrease in the inmate census of the jail with an overall reduction in its population of  567.

The June 3 escape occurred at approximately 10:15 in the morning when two pretrial inmates, Joseph Leaks and Ricardo Jones, broke through a security glass window located in the warden’s suite on the first floor of the facility, leaped onto the visitors’ entrance canopy and gained access to the community.

A correctional officer reporting for duty observed the fleeing inmates, gave chase on foot for a short distance before losing sight of them.  He then returned to the Jail to report the escape to the Command Center.

Upon confirmation of the inmates’ escape, the DC Jail was placed on immediate lockdown, resulting in the cancellation of visits, restricted movement, and the activation of emergency procedures. 

Unfortunately, members of the community reported that they did not receive timely or appropriate notification about the emergency, which should have included sounding the Department’s internal siren and the District’s Reverse 911 Alert system.

I applaud the stellar performance rendered by the Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force in the search and swift apprehension of two highly dangerous criminals. The highest standards of cooperative law enforcement demonstrated by the members of the Task Force in conjunction with the Prince George’s County Police Department led to the recapture of both inmates in less than 37 hours, with one escapee being taken into custody in Alexandria, Virginia and the other in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. The Department of Corrections is especially grateful that the apprehensions were completed without injury or negative incident.

In a correctional system, one security breach is too many. The Department has conducted a comprehensive review and assessment of its operations following the escape and with swift and decisive action; it has proceeded to initiate major improvements. I will highlight these improvements, some which have previously been unveiled at two recent community forums.   

I invited and met with ANC Commissioners that represent the Ward 6 community along with designees of the city council soon after the escape. The Department recognizes the importance of community support and strengthening relations with its members, especially in the neighborhoods surrounding the DC Jail. In addition to sharing the Department’s improvements, this meeting served as an excellent opportunity to assure community leaders of the Department’s continued commitment to public safety and to invite their recommendations on how we might strengthen our role as neighbors.

The Department had an opportunity to participate in a town hall meeting last week. I thank you, Councilmember Mendelson and Councilmember Ambrose, for facilitating this forum. It was a very productive meeting. It not only provided a constructive opportunity for the Department to address a number of community concerns, but it rendered the community an opportunity to receive a more balanced and realistic awareness of correctional operations and our role as a vital component of the District’s public safety arena.

As I have stated, the Department has made significant improvements since the escape.

I am pleased to report that the Department of Corrections and the Emergency Management Agency have met and developed clearer protocols to ensure prompt, community-wide notification regarding emergencies within our correctional system.  In this regard, EMA will activate the Reverse 911 notification in the event of escapes, mass disturbances, mass fires and other corrections-related emergencies that may affect public safety.

The Department has also began weekly testing of its siren apparatus. Testing will occur at noon each Saturday, and will consist of one, 15-second sounding. The tower officer, in turn, will notify the Command Center of a successful or failed testing, thus verifying activation of the alarm.

The Department also installed four (4) large strobe lights on the rooftop of the Jail, an improvement that provides the community with a visual alert in support of the siren’s audible notification. This mechanism should prove particularly beneficial to neighbors returning to their community during evening hours.

The Department added an armed foot patrol officer on the facility perimeter to provide additional security support to the roving patrol officer. To enhance the perimeter’s security, the Department has also made plans to purchase two (2) fully trained patrol dogs, which will be on site and ready for duty by mid-summer.

Twenty-seven windows (27) have been reinforced on the first floor, administrative side of the facility. These windows now have expanded metal screens for additional security. Two (2) pan, tilt, zoom (PTZ) cameras were installed outside the visiting control area to maximize surveillance. We hope to replace all windows at the Detention Center with reinforced security glass made explicitly for correctional use.

In addition, the Department will pursue the following security related enhancements:
Introduction of legislation that would allow the Department to mandate that correctional officers be available at all times during their tour of duty. Enactment of this request would require that they be   paid for their lunch period and provided one free meal during their shift.  As you are aware, the Department previously submitted to you a recommendation that correctional officers be afforded an early out earlier this year. We respectfully ask that this recommendation receive favorable consideration. Closely related to this matter, the Department will resubmit its request for recruitment funding for new officers.

The Department is making arrangements with the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) to post emergency information on the District government website during the weekend. This procedure is currently in place for posting routine and emergency notices during the regular business week.

Plans are underway to install 20 additional external cameras in areas surrounding the facility.

We are installing top of the line modern metal/motion detectors, duress alarms, under carriage vehicle surveillance cameras and other security devices.

The Department is seeking authorization from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to place surveillance cameras in public areas surrounding the community of the DC Jail.

  • Design work is underway to provide additional security fencing with razor ribbon and enhanced exterior lighting.
  • Our revalidating inmate classification system, the Department has hired a consultant, (Algonquin Correctional Evaluation Services (ACES) to train case managers on a risk assessment instrument.  This instrument will help identify the criminal risk potential of offenders and their suitability for employment inside the facility or placement in the community.
  • In closing, I again emphasize that one security breach in our correctional system is one too many. In acknowledging that incidents of this nature shall not occur in a correctional environment, the Department will continue to diligently pursue and implement precautionary measures. I am urging on the support of District leaders, advocacy groups, and the community-at-large to assist us as we further achieve this exceedingly important goal.

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee on the Judiciary and I welcome any questions that you may have at this time.