My letter is in response to the gross misstatement of facts in the article “Squeeze Play” (3/2). The article portrayed the Adams Morgan community’s recent opposition to the halfway house for released prisonersproposed to open at 2019 19th St. across the street from John Quincy Adams Elementary Schoolas a textbook example of how hype, fear, and pandering squeeze out available locations for halfway houses in the District. The ability to find suitable locations for halfway houses is a concern for the Adams Morgan community. The facts of the case for the halfway house proposed for Adams Morgan do not support otherwise.
When a group of community leaders first approached the Bureau of Rehabilitation Inc.a Lanham, Md.-
based nonprofitwith their concerns about the reopening of the facility with adult offenders across the street from an elementary school, D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham offered to help search for a more suitable location. The offer was rejected, and BRI dismissed the concerns of the community as irrelevant. This event launched the oppositionnot the community driven by hype, fear, and pandering portrayed in the article. It appears disingenuous to hold the opposition to this facility as an example of the squeeze in available locations when the organization charged with administering these facilities is unwilling to search with Graham’s assistance for more suitable locations.
The basis for the concern over this facility is the 30-year history of management at the same location. More recently, the article noted, the facility was closed due to a fire. However, the article failed to mention that the fire was the direct result of arson committed by a juvenile resident of the facility. The community does have a right to have its valid public safety concerns addressed, but in this case, they were dismissed.
The community meeting on Feb. 5 was also misrepresented in the article. It was reported that the community was challenged with the argument that they did not send their children to the Adams School, and shifted its concerns to property values. However, the president of the Adams PTA was present and voiced her objection to the facility. Also in attendance were several parents, with young children, who live on the same street as the facility, as well as Ward 1 Board of Education member Julie Mikuta.
The real issue at stake in this debate is that halfway houses present a risk to the community, and we need to find a constructive manner to address and manage this risk. The irony, pointed out by a community member who opposed the current halfway house, who has nearly 20 years experience in the corrections field, is that many prisoners originally incarcerated for drug-related offenses will reside at this facility located in a “drug-free school zone.” A halfway-house supporter and source for your article, Marie Sennett, expressed at the Feb. 5 community meeting that in her current position she regularly sues the Bureau of Prisonsthe agency with oversight responsibility for this facilityon behalf of prisoners in other situations. She never explains how the agency will oversee these facilities adequately in this situation. Another supporter of the halfway house and source for your article, Jason Ziedenberg, noted that previous reports of failures at halfway houses were grossly exaggeratedand I agree. However, he neither refuted that failures exist nor provided accurate data. The community does accept a level of risk with such facilities and, as Graham pointed out, Ward 1 has a disproportionate number of them.
Until someone presents credible evidence that BRI has exhausted all reasonable options to find locations for its facilities, I reject the premise that our community or any other community contributes to this issue. Your article would have better served both the adult offenders who truly need these facilities and the communities expected to embrace them if it had been more balanced.
Adams Morgan Community Association