Leaving Lorton

By the

February 15, 2001

Lorton Correctional Complex, a medium and maximum security prison in suburban Virginia, is on its way to a projected December closure, leaving the city with no prison in the metropolitan area. Bi-weekly bus trips take the once-7,200 inmates to new facilities elsewhere?such as Virginia, Ohio, New York and New Mexico?which are a mixture of federal, state and private institutions with which the city has contracted.

Granted, the grossly mismanaged and decaying 80-year old insitution had reason to be condemned, but now the D.C. Department of Corrections is handling the closure of the facility as poorly as it operated it.

Virginia politicians have been giddy to reclaim the now-valuable real estate and District politicians have cooperated, but none of them have forced the Department of Corrections into a process that preserves the prisoners’ ability to visit or communicate with their families. Instead, the contracts the city has negotiated with the inmates’s (Please leave the second ’s’; it belongs after a two-syllable word) new facilites leave the inmates without this important connection to society and component to their rehabilitation. The visits from family and friends are invaluable in sustaining the prisoners’ self esteem and network of support they will depend upon once released.

Phone calls from many of the inmates’s new prisons are unaffordable because of the high rates charged within the insititutions. Telephone contracts at many of the facilities are awarded based on the rate the company kicks back its profits to the prisons?at up to 60 percent.

With the placement of D.C. prisoners in private prisons, the city makes the strongest statement that it treats its inmates as commodities rather than people. Not only does the private prison industry create a demand for prisoners, but the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison firm, is now known for its neglect of prisoners’ safety. Its facility in Ohio, with which the city has contracted 1,500 of its inmates, reports 44 assualts, six escapes and two fatal stabbings since May 1997.

A 1998 Justice Department report chided the city for failing to prevent the homicide of inmate Bryson Chisley due to poor coordination of his transfer with the CCA prison and which put him in contact with an inmate he should have been separated from. The report added that District officials “failed to monitor the $182 million contract with CCA until legal problems arose.”

It’s time that the city focus its efforts on its responsibility in the rehabilitation process for its inmates and not on farming its problem out to faraway institutions willing to take its money.

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