Loose Lips

Corrections Director Steps Down, Replaced By IT Guy

While much attention has been paid to Michelle Rhee and her not-yet-panel-approved replacement, Mayor Vincent Gray quietly showed the door to another District government reformer last week. Without fanfare let alone a press conference, the new mayor released Department of Corrections Director Devon Brown last Tuesday. Talk about deliberative!

Brown had served as director for close to five years and in many ways had proven just as tough and reform-minded as Rhee. Although there are zero documentaries, Time magazine cover stories, and WaPo mash notes posing as editorials to attest to Brown's savior status, he certainly resurrected a troubled agency once mired in lawsuits, badly trained corrections officers, erroneously releases, and embarrassing performances before the D.C. Council's judiciary committee.

Even that committee's chair, At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, considers himself a Brown fan."The administration was looking for a change," Mendelson explains. "I know that the transition team was not warm about him. I disagreed with the transition team."

While Mendelson admitted that Brown was not big on transparency or, well, even admitting problems—the big issues tended to get addressed. "The complaints would get fixed...The jail was accredited under him, the number of lawsuits have gone down, erroneous releases have gone down, the population has gone down." Under Brown, the D.C. Jail also adopted a more progressive policy towards transgender inmates and established serious HIV testing among the incarcerated.

Phil Fornaci, executive director of the DC Prisoners' Legal Services Project, thinks that Brown performed well above his predecessors. "I had a lot of conflicts with Mr. Brown—many, many very serious conflicts with him. That said, I would not have supported him being fired. I have lived through the last couple DOC directors... They did not have the most integrity. [Brown] had a lot of good ideas. I don't think he was dishonest."

Still, Brown had to contend with the D.C. Jail–a facility that is a magnet for problems. In 2009, many cell doors wouldn't lock and as a result there were a rash of inmate stabbings. Very early in Brown's tenure, there were two troubling suicides. And finally, there was one issue that perhaps had an impact on Gray's decision to sack Brown: He never talked to the press, and he was incredibly prone to holding grudges. Says Fornaci: "He did not take criticism at all. Any slight against him, he would hold on to it for years."

Fornaci thinks Gray is going to have a hard time replacing Brown. "I don't know how he's going to find a replacement," he says. "Gray's on his own on that one...It's kind of a no-win job. People who are really good will know better than to come here."

Gray may already realize this. The Gray administration has installed Thomas Hoey as the DOC's interim director. Hoey was the DOC's IT guy.

  • incredulous

    Just as some crimes are beyond the ability of the local police force to investigate, a good reporter like Cherkis is out of his depth on the DC jail, with just this one story on what we don't want to know about, problems to just lock up.

    Considering the fraction of the DC population that passes through the criminal justice system, and the number held in the jail, this is major. Including figures, like cost and enrollment, would not have been a major sobering downer.

    Thanks to the links, I learned though,that Devon Brown had an amazing amount of relevant education, training, and certification. So what if he was a prick? The IT guy replaces him? Yes, lets pretend an iPad application written against the database is going to manage this population.

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  • Get Real

    The "IT guy" has been with DOC for a long time - he has been through the different regimes, and I'm sure has a grasp on what is necessary to keep DOC afloat until they swear him in or find someone to fill the spot.

    It's not like he's some young kid developing iPhone apps who is now the Director

  • http://DOCDirectorReplacement past

    im glad brown was replace, he nofn 2 change DOC, to make it better

  • Neighbor of DC Jail

    Brown was a no nonsense administrator with an excellent academic background who knew how to manage DOC. He will be missed and as a nearby resident I am sorry to see him go. I wonder what Sharon Pratt retread Gray will appoint as his replacement?

  • Former DOC Insider

    As someone who worked as a contractor at DOC under both Brown and the two directors who preceeded him, I can say that any fears about him leaving are entirely unfounded. Brown was a figurehead in that agency. He hadn't wanted to leave his old post as head of corrections in New Jersey, and spent a good deal of his first year on the job angling for a similar position in Marylsnd. Once Gov. O'Malley wouldn't give him even a sniff of the job--despite a good deal of lobbying on his behalf--he retreated to his second floor office and grew old behind his desk. Yes, he's a prick, that much is true -- he is incredibly thin-skinned, intolerant of opinions that are counter to his, and dismissive and bullying of others. He was not a leader, he was a dictator, and he damaged morale at the agency immeasurably.

    As to Tom Hoey, I will say this -- much of the improvement in the D.C. Jail came about as a result of his efforts. His team created a comprehensive performance measurement system, overhauled the supply chain system at the jail (this is of huge benefit to the inmates) and implemented an RFID system that makes it easier to track inmate movements, which enhances safety of both corrections officers and inmates. Tom's team also was responsible for the agency's budget. He is an able administrator with 40 years of experience in both D.C. and New York City. He doesn't have the corrections pedigree that Brown had, but he is a far more capable manager who will be a far better, more collegial leader -- while still insisting on accountability. He isn't just "the IT guy."

  • Canjac Canjar

    I'm glad Director Brown is gone. He hated the rank and file DOC employees and used his Deputy Director to terrorize and intimidate them. The DOC officers never had what they needed to properly operate and secure the DC Jail. Just recently, when Director Brown and the Deputy Director - the two "twin devils of deceit" were being led to the door - did things start to get better. And as for that accreditation - there is no way that it could have been achieved without some type of bribe. How in the world do you correct decades of neglect within 30 days? Thats all it took to prepare the DCJail for accredidation! An absolutely travesty if I must say so. The Deputy Director was a regular, modern day Medusa while Brown is an equivalent to the Devil. Tom Hoey - the IT replacement is an excellent choice for Director and has what it takes to turn the DOC around and guide the ship on a course to excellence.