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William J. Smith, who served as warden at the D.C. jail since 2014, quietly retired from his position at the end of September, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sylvia Lane confirmed. Lennard Johnson, deputy warden of operations, will serve as interim leader until a replacement is chosen.
Smith’s departure is the latest in a series of personnel shake-ups at the Department of Corrections in the last three weeks. Tom Faust, the agency’s director, announced he will retire in November. Several weeks earlier, Mayor Muriel Bowser replaced Charles Thornton as director of the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizen Affairs.
Smith worked in corrections for over four decades, starting his career as a correctional officer at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland. He went on to serve as warden at the Patuxent Institution and Commissioner of the Maryland Division of Pretrial Detention and Services. He previously served as warden of the D.C. jail between 2006 and 2007, but resigned due to “personal reasons.”
This time around, his reason for leaving remains unclear, and the quiet departure raises questions. The Department of Corrections published no notice regarding Smith’s retirement. The unceremonious exit contrasts with the enthusiasm surrounding Smith’s return to the agency two years ago. In a Department of Corrections newsletter, the agency announced that “Mr. William J. Smith rejoins the DOC family as Warden,” touting his “distinguished career in corrections [and] positive outlook in the Department.”
Smith did not respond to a request for comment, but Sylvia Lane confirmed that he was no longer serving as warden.
“Warden Smith retired at the end of [September] with over 40-plus years experience in the corrections field,” she wrote in an email. “He was a well-liked and highly respected leader.”
Lane noted that the agency held an internal event commemorating his service.
Saymendy Lloyd, chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee, which was established to promote open communication between the Department of Corrections and the public, expressed her concern over Smith’s hushed exit—especially in light of the recent personnel shake-ups at the agency.
“The concern is quite legitimate,” Lloyd said. “I am getting calls and questions about the warden’s retirement, and why the [public] was not told about it … These are questions I’m going to ask—I’m going to call Director Faust himself and ask.”
Lloyd emphasized her admiration of Faust’s leadership over the last five years, but expressed frustration over the communication breakdowns both internally and between the agency and the public.
Smith served as warden during a turbulent period for the D.C. jail. Over the summer, for example, inmates and corrections officers complained of unbearable temperatures in the facility. Seventy-year-old Lester Irby, who was awaiting trial on assault charges, died of an apparent stroke at the height of the heat wave.
Officials cited old or faulty air ducts that didn’t circulate cool air from the air conditioners. As staff members were reduced to handing out ice and setting up industrial fans in common areas to mitigate the dangerously high temperatures, the facility’s aging infrastructure was on full display, which renewed calls for D.C. to invest in a new jail.
As the Bowser administration mulls the logistics of financing and constructing a new facility, it first needs to determine who will oversee the jail moving forward.