Inmates Might Be Bound for Ohio: D.C. Says Plan Is Not Yet Final

By Morris, Vincent S.; Scheets, Gary | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Inmates Might Be Bound for Ohio: D.C. Says Plan Is Not Yet Final


Morris, Vincent S., Scheets, Gary, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Officials of a Tennessee company said yesterday that it will soon begin moving 1,500 D.C. inmates to a new prison in Ohio, though D.C. officials insist that the plan is still under discussion.

Corrections Corporation of America officials said a prison in Youngstown is under construction and the first inmates could arrive as early as February, with the remainder of the beds ready on April 1.

The proposal involves closing an 800-bed medium-security unit at the District-owned Lorton Correctional Complex and a second 700-bed, dormitory-style medium-security unit nearby on what is known as the Occoquan campus.

But top D.C. officials, who acknowledge that they have negotiated with CCA and other companies about taking over several portions of the city corrections system, said no deal has been signed.

Department of Corrections Director Margaret Moore said late yesterday that she visited the Youngstown prison on Dec. 26 and believes sending D.C. inmates there is cheaper and safer.

"I was very impressed. It's a state-of-the-art facility," she said, though she was unable to provide financial details of the proposal.

Advocates for prisoners' rights think the move will be counterproductive to rehabilitation efforts.

"We totally oppose this kind of move of prisoner. We see it as banishment," said Pauline Sullivan, director of D.C. Cure, which encourages rehabilitation that includes keeping prisoners close to their families, making visits and contact easier.

Mrs. Sullivan said families that are already financially burdened because of relatives in prison will not be able to afford to drive 297 miles to Youngstown.

CCA, based in Nashville, designed and will own the $45 million medium-security, all-cell prison in Youngstown. Miss Moore said Appleton Economic Development Corporation of Minnesota also approached the city with an offer.

CCA builds and manages prisons and other correctional institutions for government agencies. The company manages private-sector correction facilities with 41,167 beds in 59 facilities in the United States, Puerto Rico, Australia and the United Kingdom.

While Youngstown is about a 4 1/2-hour drive from the District, Miss Moore said moving inmates away from the city improves the safety of Fairfax County residents living near Lorton, where escapes and reports of violence among inmates and against guards are chronic.

"I believe we really need to put some distance between the victims of crime and the people who commit them," Miss Moore said.

Mrs. Sullivan said her group would push for limited transfers to the Youngstown facility to shorten the length of time prisoners are away from their families.

"I'm not saying they shouldn't serve their time," she said. "But banishing them like this is wrong."

The debate about whether D.C. inmates should be moved out of the city comes in the wake of the Christmas escape from Lorton by Thomas Wilkes, 37, who was serving a 30-years-to-life sentence for gunning down his estranged girlfriend 7 1/2 years ago and wounding her friend, who remains paralyzed from the chest down. …

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