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Michael Schaffer’s article (“Prison Terms,” 11/27) was an on-the-mark synopsis. It covered the majority of the issues surrounding the whys and wherefores of a prison that could be forced on a depressed, oppressed urban area that has not yet found its niche since home rule came into play some 20 years ago. Unless, of course, urban decay, crime, welfare, school dropouts, teen pregnancies, single parents, and drugs are considered a niche.
The many promises from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), one of the bidders for the prison contract, to a handful of Ward 8 community members have, as usual, grasped some of the same ones who want financial gain regardless of what is to be. The question has to be asked: Do they really have a viable skill? Or is it just wooing until CCA gets the OK to build?
The prison is to be a federally and privately run facility. Do John Ray, local lobbyist for CCA, and CCA’s Joseph Johnson have the authority to hand out contractual promises like Halloween candy? Or will there have to be competitive bidding?
By the prison’s being both a federal and a private facility, prisoners from other states will be able to be housed there, and D.C. prisoners will be able to be housed elsewhere. There are no guarantees as to who will be where.
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Portions of the land where CCA is trying to build the prison are landfill. There is a danger that methane gas has built up in the soil. Methane is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, flammable gas. A mixture of methane gas with oxygen, air, or chlorine is explosive. Methane is formed when plants decay in places where there is little oxygen. It is often called marsh gas because it is found around stagnant water and swamps.
If the soil is not cleaned properly and the prison is built on the land, incarcerated people could be in danger of being killed. Even a methane gas monitor on the ground level is no guarantee that locked-in prisoners can be evacuated safely.
Cleaned land is one of the stipulations for CCA to move forward.
Another reason the proponents say they want the prison is because they feel they will have more control over the treatment of the inmates and a say-so on programs offered to inmates. However, these same persons didn’t make a fuss when the District was ruining Lorton, nor have they stepped forward to improve the conditions at the District-run D.C. Jail. Now they are thinking they can dictate to a federal and private facility.
With CCA’s history of inmate disturbances, killings, injuries, escapes, and large numbers of fines, no one should want a family member housed in a facility uncontrolled by CCA.
In this instance, the cart is being put before the horse, because CCA does not own the land, has not been awarded the contract, has not had the land zoned for a prison, and has not completed the environmental impact studies .
Additionally, it seems that the Federal Bureau of Prisons isn’t quite sure about what it wants. The request for proposal (RFP) dated Feb. 12, 1998, includes 220 pages and has no closing date. As of the last week in November, they have amended the RFP, with 11 more pages but still no closing date. Now, instead of one facility to house 2,200, they are asking for two facilities, separating minimum-security inmates from low-security inmates.
CCA is proposing to have the prison built by Dec. 31, 1999, yet the next zoning hearing won’t he held until March 1999. Maybe the March date will buy CCA some time to get the environmental studies done. We’ll see.