A recent rash of escapes from the prison at Lorton has rekindled old animosities between the District of Columbia, which runs the correctional facility, and Fairfax County, where it is located.
At least six prisoners, including three who remain at large, have escaped from Lorton since June 6 and four have escaped in the last two weeks. Fairfax officials complained in a letter to Mayor Marion Barry this week that prison officials neglected in at least two cases to notify county police or sound a siren to alert neighbors, as required under procedures the District of Columbia accepted to settle a lawsuit in 1975.
County police did not learn of one escape on Aug. 1 until a nearby resident telephoned after seeing a man "crawl out of a drainage ditch and don a jogging suit," according to the letter to Barry from county executive J. Hamilton Lambert. D.C. officials acknowledged yesterday they received a call from Fairfax police about that escape before they were sure it had taken place.
"They just aren't following the procedures that were part of the court order in '75," Fairfax Board Chairman John F. Herrity said. "We're just not going to tolerate that."
A spokesman for Barry said the mayor has not received Lambert's letter and so could not comment. Corrections chief George E. Holland said he was not aware of any breakdown in procedures.
The District of Columbia runs six facilities, ranging from youth camps to a maximum security prison, on its 3,000-acre reservation at Lorton, an otherwise sleepy village in southern Fairfax near the Prince William County line. Fairfax officials long have campaigned to send the prisoners back to D.C., and the issue came to a head after escapees committed a murder and a kidnaping in the early 1970s.
The county and the Virginia state attorney general both sued the District of Columbia, which agreed to limit the number of prisoners at Lorton and tighten security there. Fairfax officials said the procedures helped, and there were no escapes from the medium or maximum security prisons between May 1981 and this June. Herrity said he now fears a return to old problems.
"Although there had been considerable progress during the past three years, there appears now to be a business-as-usual attitude on the part of the administration at the Lorton correctional complex relative to escapes," Lambert wrote Barry.
A spokesman for the D.C. Corrections Department, LeRoy B. Anderson, said the recent escapes may reflect "population pressure" at Lorton. The central, medium-security facility, built for 1,162 prisoners, now holds 1,287, he said. Anderson and Lorton official Douglas W. Stempson said they had no figures on the number of prisoners who have "walked away" from minimum security facilities at Lorton, but they confirmed these escapes:
On June 6, Michael Miller, who was serving 20 years to life for first-degree murder, walked out on visitors day, apparently screened by departing guests. He has not been recaptured. His brother, Willie Miller, also convicted of first-degree murder, escaped at the same time, but was noticed and caught a few hundred feet from the guard's trailer.
On July 30, Michael Haywood, imprisoned for armed robbery and assault with intent to kill, escaped over the fence and was recaptured several hours later.
On Aug. 1, Michael Hill, sentenced to nine years for armed robbery, escaped over the fence. Lambert said Fairfax police, who helped capture Hill later that afternoon, were not notified until two hours after the escape.
On Aug. 7, Kevin T. Brown, convicted of armed robbery and assault with intent to kill, walked away from a minimum security facility. Lambert said Brown, who remains free, escaped about an hour before Fairfax police were notified.
On Aug. 10, Bobby P. Harris, in prison for pickpocket robbery and escaping from a halfway house, departed. He remains free.
The escape of Hill, the prisoner apparently seen exiting the drainage ditch, angered Fairfax officials most. Stempson said a guard at the neighboring maximum-security prison saw a man running through the parking lot, but guards were still checking that report when the Fairfax police called.
"They found it hard to believe a man could climb over the fence and not be seen by anybody, so they made a count," Stempson said. "It wasn't a confirmed escape" when county police telephoned.
Florence Grigsby, a 63-year-old neighbor of the prison, said she has two Doberman pinscher dogs and a 4 1/2-foot fence but still doesn't feel safe. "They've got to keep them in better," she said. "It would be great if they'd take them back to D.C. where they belong."
Grigsby said she has lived near Lorton for 33 years and remembers when the escapees were from the drunk tank, and not frightening at all. "The guards would call and say, 'He's not quite right in the mind and he wants to go to Philadelphia, so just tell him to sit by the road and the Philadelphia bus will be along,' " Grigsby recalled. "Now we're getting ones from the minimum security, which are murderers and things like that. Lord knows what's in the maximum security."