Oxon Creek is typical of town house developments in the area. This one, however, is located in the District's Ward 8, in far Southeast Washington.

It is one of several ownership housing developments that have recently been built or are under construction in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

Like Walter E. Washington Estates and other new owner-occupied housing developments, Oxon Creek is part of what city officials and community leaders envision as the leading edge of an economic, social and demographic turnaround in that part of the District.

One study said, for example, that District officials hope to achieve a mixed-income orientation for Ward 8, which has the highest poverty rate in the city.

Although much of the demographic profile data paints a picture of significant economic restraint, "there does appear to be a modest, but nonetheless significant, middle-to-upper-middle-income market" east of the Anacostia, according to the study by the Washington Area Housing Partnership.

However, Ward 8 is where Corrections Corp. of America wants to build a 1,200-bed prison for inmates from the District, provided that the D.C. Zoning Commission approves CCA's request to zone 42 acres of land for that purpose.

Meanwhile, CCA is one of several private prison companies competing for a Federal Bureau of Prisons contract to house inmates from the District's Lorton Correctional Complex, which is scheduled to be closed just over two years from now.

But with D.C. officials opposed to the idea of building a penal institution in the city, CCA and its army of local hired guns are aggressively promoting the proposed prison as a major asset to the community.

A consultant to CCA went further, asserting that a prison in Ward 8 would create jobs, reduce crime, stimulate development and increase property values.

And the cow jumped over the moon.

Contrary to the rosy economic picture being drawn of the proposed prison, penal institutions are not economic engines. They may be major sources of employment in some small towns with narrow economic bases, and in rural communities, where they're typically found.

But comparing those areas with the nation's capital, under the guise of economic development, is not only misleading but patronizing to Ward 8 residents.

If prisons were the economic plums that CCA would have us believe, then why were Fairfax County officials and residents who live near the Lorton complex so eager to have that facility closed?

A prison, whether in Ward 8 or in Warrenton, obviously would be a source of jobs for a small segment of the population. However, to infer that a prison would improve socio-economic conditions, stimulate development and increase property values is an extraordinary reach in urban planning and economic forecasting.

Far from being part of a plan to support economic development in the District, CCA's Ward 8 prison proposal is simply an extension of the company's strategy to increase its share of profits from the privatization of D.C. correctional facilities.

This is the same CCA, after all, that waged an intensive lobbying campaign, prompting District officials in 1996 to award the company a $182 million, five-year, non-competitive-bid contract to run the city's 900-bed correctional treatment facility.

Now CCA, the nation's largest private prison company, is attempting to work its way back to the public trough, hoping to further capitalize on the growth of crime in the District.

The fact is, the stage for CCA's return was set early in 1996, when former D.C. mayor Marion Barry proposed transferring 7,000 Lorton prisoners to privately run prisons. Under the revitalization plan for the District, which Congress approved the following year, inmates from Lorton must be transferred to federal or private prisons by the end of 2001.

CCA's lobbyists were never far away. Congress quietly approved a deal calling for the National Park Service, which owns the 42-acre tract in Ward 8, to swap that site with CCA for a parcel in Prince George's County.

That's some deal, considering the District's limited land area and the fact that it is prohibited by Congress from taxing about 41 percent of the property in the city, much of it owned by the federal government.

Economic development in the District was not a consideration in the land swap. And neither was it an issue for CCA when the company began lobbying city officials and community leaders to support its proposal to build the prison.

It was only after Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other city officials announced their opposition to the proposal that CCA's lobbyists framed the prison boondoggle in economic terms.

Clearly, the proposal has little to do with economic development. It is based on greed and deception.

That said, the Zoning Commission should reject CCA's zoning request, thus preventing Congress, CCA and its minions from getting away with economic rape.