Busloads of D.C. Jail inmates, guarded by armed police escorts and a hovering police helicopter, were transferred to the Lorton Reformatory in Northern Virginia yesterday, bringing to about 430 the total number of inmates moved to relieve jail overcrowding in the past two days.
The mass transfer, ordered after two major disturbances at the troubled jail last week, was completed without any problems, according to corrections officials, who acknowledged that it will push the Lorton facility, also run by the D.C. government, over its capacity, currently estimated at about 3,000 inmates.
John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County board of supervisors expressed opposition to the transfers in an interview last night, and said he expects to ask the supervisors Monday to seek a court order restraining the District from transferring more prisoners and returning those that have been sent.
"We're going to do what we can to reverse this action and vindicate the rights of the people of this county," Herrity said.
Other Fairfax County officials and residents who live near Lorton met late yesterday with D.C. Corrections Director James E. Palmer to express their concerns about the transfer, particularly the effect the additional prisoners will have on security at the Lorton facility.
"The people are frightened," said Michael Hanks, who lives near the prison. "They think that overcrowding might lead to escapes, and that the fires and disturbances that are going on in D.C. might start up here."
Palmer apologized to the group that organized the meeting, called the Mount Vernon District Citizens' Task Force on District of Columbia Prison at Lorton, for the quickness of the transfer and the dramatic effect that it seemed to have on the community.
"We had an emergency. I had anticipated such a situation," Palmer said, "and so I did what I planned to do."
"You alleviated pressure on the one hand and increased the pressures on the other, and that other is us," Sandra Duckworth, the Fairfax County supervisor whose district includes Lorton, told Palmer.
"I think they've used the disturbances at the D.C. Jail to make this move," Duckworth had told the meeting earlier. "I am very concerned that they won't be able to handle it from a security standpoint. If there is the slightest doubt about that , we will go to court."
Corrections officials said that about 200 guards were on duty at the jail during the transfers, which Palmer said occurred "without any incidents." Officials said almost all of the guards on duty late Friday and early yesterday were forced to work 16-hour shifts because of the disturbance and subsequent transfers.
"Since you have a lot of officers at the prison working overtime, this could put not only those officers at risk due to fatigue, but the community could be threatened also." Duckworth told Palmer.
Salanda Whitfield, administrator of Lorton's Central Facility, told the assembled residents that the influx of new prisoners caused "absolutely no decrease in security."
Palmer said a total of 3,304 prisoners were at Lorton last night.
Officials said a new work-release program is scheduled to begin July 30 and to include 128 Lorton inmates. The program was design primarily to allow jail inmates to be transferred to Lorton.
Palmer also said that additional officers are being recruited to work at the prison, but he declined to say how many officers might be added.
The mass transfer of prisoners began Friday evening after jail inmates set fire to scores of mattresses, sending clouds of thick black smoke swirling through several of the facility's cellblocks.
The convoys of green buses and prisoner-filled patrol wagons, guarded by police cars with flashing lights and screaming sirens, moved through the city streets from the jail, located in Southeast Washington, and over the 14th Street Bridge into Virginia until the early morning hours Saturday. Virginia State Police took over guarding the buses as they traveled on to Lorton. About 260 inmates were moved before the buses stopped rolling near dawn, according to corrections officials.
The transfers started up again at about 10 a.m. yesterday and the last buses pulled into Lorton in late afternoon, adding another approximately 190 inmates to the total moved.
Palmer said 20 D.C. Jail inmates who had not yet been sentenced were mistakenly transferred to Lorton yesterday. All 20 will be sent back to the jail immediately, he said. The jail population includes defendants awaiting trial, but only defendants already convicted and sentenced may be imprisoned at Lorton.
The jail was intended primarily to house people convicted of misdemeanors and defendants awaiting trial, while Lorton was designed to hold inmates convicted of serious offenses. However, overcrowding at Lorton has forced an overflow of convicted people to be held at the D.C. Jail, adding to that facility's overcrowding problems.
The jail was built to house 1,355 inmates, but its population in recent months has hovered at about 2,400, with many inmates stacked two each in 7-by-10-foot cells. Last month, a federal judge threatened to hold D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and other city officials in contempt of court if they did not take action to relieve the overcrowding.
Friday's jail fires came just two days after protesting inmates forced a five-hour standoff at the jail, which ended peacefully when officials agreed to act on a series of inmate demands, including requests for more food and relief from overcrowding.
The handcuffed inmates sitting on the buses as they stopped at oneminimum-security Lorton facility yesterday told a waiting reporters that they were glad to be moving. Lorton, they said would offer them "more fresh air," more room, more sanitary conditions and better medical treatment.
Lorton officials said yesterday that they had increased the capacity of their institution, which actually contains six separate facilities, by the completion Thursday of the renovation of an orientation area. That area was being turned into a housing facility and now 200 inmates will be placed there, they said.
An area used for classrooms also has been turned into a dormitory and about 100 inmates will be placed there, officials said. Vacancies that just came open in other prison facilities will be used to house about 60 other inmates.
Corrections spokesman Leroy Anderson said room will also be made by placing extra bunks in some existing dormitories.
Another renovated facility is due to open Aug. 1, and that will provide some further relief, according to Anderson.
Anderson said prison employes had been working overtime to ready the institution for the transfers and to screen the inmates as they came in. He said he did not know the exact cost of the entire operation, but added, "I shudder to think what it might be."