The lonely exile of the District's "female offenders," women convicts serving their time at remote federal prisons in West Virginia and Kentucky because there is no facility for them here, may be ending.
With the approval of Mayor Marion Barry, a committee of the D.C. City Council has recommended changes in the proposed city budget for 1982 that would permit the women to be transferred to the correctional complex at Lorton Fairfax County.
Council member David Clarke (D-Ward 1), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, proposed that the council transfer $2.5 million out of the funds the city pays the federal government to house prisoners each year, and use the money to convert a youth correctional center at Lorton to a prison for women. The committee approved his amendment, and the full city council is expected to go along when it acts on the budget next week.
The women have been transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons because the city does not have any facility for long-term confinement of women. But Barry proposed closing a youth facility at Lorton to save money next year, giving Clarke the opportunity to move that the youth center be retained and converted.
There are about 150 female convicts from the District at the federal prisons in Alderson, W.Va. and Lexington, Ky. They, their families and community groups who work with them have long complained that their confinement there separates them from their families and their community and creates a hardship for their children.
One of the women, Bettye Pitts, has sued the city, claiming that her remote incareration violates her right to equal protection under the law because men are not similarly treated. Barry said last week that her claim or one like it probably would be upheld and the city would be required to bring the women home anyway, so voluntary transfer is appropriate.
"I support the concept of it," Barry said in an interview. "I have always supported a way of trying to bring the women who are residents of the District into our correctional system. In fact, if we don't do it eventually we're going to get sued and some judge is going to make us do it."
The only question, Barry said, is whether it can be done by the 1982 fiscal year, which begins next Oct. 1. "I told Dave Clarke I supported it programmatically," he said, but "whether it can be done by '82 is something that [D.C. Corrections Director] Delbert Jackson and the Federal Bureau of Prisons and everybody will have to work on."