Fairfax County officials are exploring the possibility of sending up to 200 prisoners from the county's badly crowded jail to the District of Columbia's Lorton Reformatory.
Fairfax Sheriff M. Wayne Huggins declined yesterday to discuss the county's negotiations with the city. But William D. Golightly, a top aide to the District's director of corrections, Delbert C. Jackson, said he has held "very tentative discussions" with one of Huggins' top aides, Carl R. Peed.
"There is a good possibility we might explore joint use of the facility," Golightly said, "but we will have to talk with the mayor."
Approval also would be required from the U.S. attorney general's office because the 3,000-acre Lorton complex in Fairfax County is owned by the federal government. The District is in charge of operations.
Five years ago Fairfax filed suit to get Lorton, which is located 20 miles from the District amid the county's spreading subdivisions, closed as a public nuisance. Under federal court order, the District increased security at Lorton and since then escapees have become a rarity. Given its worsening jail situation, the county now is looking at the once-reviled reformatory in a new light.
Golightly said security for any Fairfax prisoners at Lorton would be the responsibility of the county.If 200 prisoners were sent to the facility, the county reportedly would have to provide staff of nearly 60 men, the same number that would be needed to accompany a jail expansion proposed in a bond referendum county voters will approve or reject next month. The cost of that staff, counting salaries, training and uniform allowance, would be more than $1 million.
In a report he issued yesterday, Huggins said the jali's permanent population recently reached a record high of 333 -- or 135 more than capacity. The jail, which opened slightly more than 2 1/2 years ago, was supposed to handle the county's needs into the 1980s, but it quickly filled up.
Only yesterday 58 prisoners were sleeping on mattresses on the floor. "There is no more room," Huggins said.
On Nov. 4, Fairfax voters will decide on a $8,555,000 bond referendum for jail expansion that would result in a net increase of 196 spaces. But even if the bond referedum should be approved, Huggins said the new spaces would not be ready for three years.
The space at Lorton that Fairfax oficials would like to use in the meantime is in the minimum-security section, which presently holds about 180 prisoners according to Golightly, but has a designed capacity of 304. The facility which has no walls or fences, was the scene of a dramatic break-in last April in which a sleeping inmate, Douglas Boney, was fatally shot by two intruders who were later convicted of murder.
While the Fairfax proposal has been initially well received by Jackson's office, Lorton Superintendent M.D. Strickland said, "I don't see how we would be able to handle any [Fairfax] prisoners at all. The population of the minimum-security facility is subject to fluctuation. We always try to stay below the maximum capability."
The minimum-security section consists of two dormitories, each having two tiers. Strickland said it holds felons who are within 12 months of their release date, and who have shown "trust-worthiness and an ability to rehabilitate themselves.
Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity (R), who was one of the most vocal critics of the Lorton facility when the county was trying to get it closed down, said he had no comment on the negotiations.
Supervisor Nancy K. Falck (R-Dranesville) said she wanted to know what other options the county has for its prisoner overflow. "If Lorton is the only alternative," she said, "then we may have to use it."
Huggins said space problems at the Fairfax jail have been compounded by his decision to remove inmates from the old jail, behind the courthouse, "to guarantee that their health and safety is ensured." He said heating and ventilation at the old jail were "extremely poor" and that there also were problems with hot water. All 22 inmates at the old jail have been relocated to the new facility.
Huggins said that since Sept. 19 he has called 31 other jurisdictions in Virginia, hoping to find available jail space, "but we have been able to farm out only four prisoners. It's just not working. Other places are getting tired of our people."
Two of the four spaces Huggins found were at the jail in Lee County, in Southwest Virginia, 400 miles from Fairfax.
"To transfer those two prisoners," Huggins said, "we had to send two deputies along. They get $12 overtime, and it takes two days for the trip. Plus there is the travel costs for 800 miles round trip."
Huggins said that 85 to 90 percent of all the permanent prisoners at the Fairfax jail are either felons awaiting transfer to a state penitentiary or persons arrested for felonies but detained instead of being released on bail "because the judges just won't release them."
Describing conditions in the jail, Huggins said, "It's calm -- we're going out of our way to do things for the inmates. But gasoline is calm before you throw a match on it."