Officials from Fairfax County and the District of Columbia have reached an agreement to move the controversial Lorton Reformatory firing range, County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert revealed yesterday at the county board meeting.
"Last Friday afternoon, we agreed to it in concept. I say 'in concept' because the approval of the board of supervisors, the mayor of the District and the judge are needed," Lambert said.
According to documents provided to the board, the new site would be on the western, instead of eastern, portion of the complex, with the closest major roads being Hooes Road and Furnace Road. The agreement requires the District to incorporate engineering and safety measures designed to stop stray bullets.
Fairfax went to court this spring to force the District to stop using the existing firing range after residents living near the prison complained that stray bullets had hit their homes. Officials said that .45-caliber slugs struck three homes in the Newington Forest subdivision Feb. 23 during a firing range drill.
On April 29, U.S. District Court Judge Albert C. Bryan Jr. ordered the District to temporarily close the firing range and said he would set a date for a full hearing on the county's suit. Since then, D.C. and county officials have been seeking a way to settle the dispute.
The board yesterday also approved a letter asking Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) to introduce legislation that would return to Virginia authority over the Lorton property, enabling Fairfax to control such things as land use policy.
Virginia gave that authority to the federal government in 1901 and an act of Congress is required to get it back.
In another development yesterday, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the D.C. budget, toured the Lorton prison complex and said security there "looks good," but that more money needs to be spent on upgrading rehabilitation programs.
Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) and several Fairfax County officials have complained about escapes from the facility and have called for a review of expenditures at the prison to make certain government funds are being used to increase security. Parris has repeatedly proposed that the entire facility be moved into the District. Yesterday, Specter said Lorton officials have "put a lot of emphasis on security" and that relocating the facility is a good idea but "a long range project" at best.
"I'm taking a look at the budget to see if we have any extra money for realistic rehabilitation," Specter said after the tour, conducted by Mayor Marion Barry. " ...The prison is not overcrowded but more needs to be done in terms of literacy programs and job training."
Warner and James Lee, assistant director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, also took part in yesterday's tour. Warner said afterwards that he supports efforts to relocate the prison and criticized the notion raised by D.C. officials of expanding the facility. "This facility was built in 1901. There's no sense in pouring dough in here to keep old buildings propped up," he said.
"The ultimate rehabilitation vehicle would be a new prison located inside the boundaries of D.C. that would be modern, clean and located close to the families of the people who are incarcerated there," Dick Leggit, administrative assistant to Parris, said in response to Specter's comments. D.C. officials oppose the idea of moving the prison into the city. "I know of no available land in the District where a prison the size of Lorton could be built," Barry said yesterday.