Northeast residents have organized to stop the establishment of a halfway house for former prison inmates in a building at 4301 Harewood Rd., across the street from Archbishop Carroll High School.
The building, now the educational training center of the Holy Cross Mission, may be purchased by the Bureau of Rehabilitation, a United Way-sponsored agency that has been working since 1929 with ex-offenders in the District. The agency now has three half-way houses in the District, including one that houses both men and women. The Harewood Road facility would be the second for men and women ex-offenders.
Bureau officials said they are prepared to pay $850,000 for the building.
Community residents, however, are opposed to the plan.
In an emotional meeting at Carroll High School last week, bureau officials Dectur Trotter and Edward Johnson were asked to tell a crowd of about 60 people why they wanted to place the facility in the community.
The houses would provide shelter, conseling and aid for 90 former District residents returning to the city after being paroled from federal prisons across the United States, Trotter said. Most of the parolees would be repeat offenders who would be completing two-year sentences for their latest offense, he said. Most of the operating costs would be paid by the Department of Human Resources and the D.C. Department of Corrections.
Inmates about to be paroled would be released in the bureau's custody and stay at the halfway house an average of 60 days. The bureau can screen and reject clients referred to them, Trotter later said.
The residents would work or look for jobs, continued Trotter. Under federal prison guidelines, all parolees must be released to a halfway house unless granted special privileges by the prison superintendent, he said.
Eventually, the former inmates would return to the community.
The racially mixed crowd of middle-aged and elderly people said they feared the home would bring increased crime and drug traffic, and would cause property values to decline. Residents said they would attempt to block the agency from obtaining an occupancy permit for the building and would march on the District Building in protest.
"Are we going to be able to walk our streets freely?" area resident Marie K. Volmer asked Trotter. "Are we going to feel at home?"
"No! No!" said a group of residents.
Another resident, Raymond Bell, told the crowd he had worked in a penitentiary and halfway house in Raleigh, N.C.
"Not all inmates are bad," he said. "But you have a lot you can't control. These people come out in a halfway house and some of them come back (to the house drunk), handling drugs and they dring (drugs) in the place. I have a daughter. I have a son. I'm against it 100 percent!"
"What are you going to do about the school children?" asked an elderly woman, jumping to her feet.
Trotter said residents would be given urine tests frequently to test for drugs. If a resident tests positive twice, he would be sent back to prison, and Trotter.
"I know of three, four and five positives where a resident was not sent back," said James E. Short, challenging Trotter's statement. Short formerly worked for a bureau halfway house for six years. Earlier in the evening, he testified that bureau employe supervision was lax, rules were broken and strict counselors were upbraided for penalizing residents while he was employed at a halfway house at 1770 Park Rd. NW.
The Rev. Thomas Bogardus, principal of Carroll High School, added that marijuana use does not show up in urine tests. Bogardus said he opposed the project "basically because it's across from this school." The school has approximately 700 students, he said.
"There's a good possibility the sale of marijuana might take place," he said. "I'm not opposed to rehabilitation. I'm opposed to making the sale easier to the students here."
The meeting was called by Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Lawrence Holmes and Norman Neverson.
Neverson thanked the bureau officials for their comments and asked them to tell their executive director that "this is one project that never be. You'll never see a halfway house at 4301 Harewood Rd."