Jail Where Judith Miller Is Held: Maximum, Modern Security
The New York Times has an interesting discussion of the jail its reporter Judith Miller is expected to call home for the next four months.
Jail Where Reporter Is Held: Maximum, Modern Security (NYT, July 8)
There are no bars in the 70-square-foot cell that Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter, is expected to call home for the next four months or so, as she serves her contempt-of-court sentence in the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia. But though the jail has a reputation among lawyers and corrections officials as a relatively progressive institution, Ms. Miller indicated to her lawyers yesterday that the detention center seemed overcrowded and that she was told she would be sleeping on the floor last night because of a shortage of beds.
Ms. Miller was sentenced to jail in the Washington area on Wednesday for refusing to cooperate with a special prosecutor’s investigation into the disclosure of the identity of a covert C.I.A. operative, and entered the detention center later that afternoon. The staff was “extremely professional and very courteous,” she said from jail Wednesday night. After spending about a day in the initial receiving area, she was moved into the general population yesterday.
The Alexandria Detention Center, opened in 1987 at a cost of $15 million, adheres to a corrections philosophy that tries to use architectural and management styles different from the norm to reduce the tension between inmates and staff members. In contrast, the District of Columbia jail has been plagued by safety problems and overcrowding.
“When they tell you it’s a ‘new-generation jail,’ that’s not just a bunch of hype,” Melinda Douglas, the public defender for the City of Alexandria, said of the Alexandria jail. “They just don’t throw you in a cell and expect you to manage,” Ms. Douglas said.
Though the jail is considered maximum security, the layout of the eight-story building is reminiscent of a dormitory, with cells lining the outside walls and a lounge in the middle. The 450 inmates live in cells with doors and windows rather than bars, and are spread through housing units holding up to 90 people each where they are supervised by one or more deputies, said David Rocco, a captain in the Alexandria sheriff’s office.
In the lounges, inmates can watch television, play cards or otherwise be outside their cells except for shift changes and head counts during the day and for eight hours at night. Inmates may make unlimited collect calls and have radios and CD players in their cells, and have access to programs taught by volunteers. “You respect them, and in return they respect you,” Captain Rocco said. But, as Ms. Douglas noted, it’s still a jail and “it’s still no fun.” Ms. Miller has to wear a green or brown jumpsuit with the word “prisoner” on the back. She can receive visitors only on weeknights except Friday and during the days on weekends.
Among her fellow inmates is Zacarias Moussaoui, who recently pleaded guilty in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. The local jail takes federal inmates through a contract with the United States Marshals Service.
While it’s really sweet that they make life so pleasant for the inmates, it still sounds like too much security for a middle aged reporter with no history of violence. Miller is the classic case of someone for whom the expense of maintenance in a corrections facility makes no sense. Why not simply sentence her to home confinement without access to a computer or the ability to give interviews for four months?