More than 200 people attended a special town meeting about Lorton Reformatory last night that was called by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Rep. Stan Parris (R-8th District).
"We have a short-term problem and a long-term problem with Lorton," Warner told the group gathered at Newington Forest Elementary School. He said the short-term solution requires beefed-up security at the prison, and that a long-term solution can only come with a new prison in the District.
"This will require determination, patience and above all, cool heads," Warner added.
The meeting also attracted several elected officials and political candidates from the southern Fairfax area who voiced concerns about Lorton, which is located in Fairfax but houses District of Columbia prisoners. During the past 10 years there have been about 50 prisoner escapes and the number of Lorton prisoners has grown by about 31 percent.
Most of the residents at the meeting were overwhelmingly opposed to the presence of Lorton in their neighborhood but they seemed pessimistic about chances that the prison would be closed anytime soon.
Bill Mindak, who has lived in Newington Forest for 2 1/2 years, said that while he supports upgrading security, "I want them to get out as soon as possible. We have a nice neighborhood and I'm sick of hearing the alarms sounded at Lorton going off" whenever there is an escape, he said.
Cathy Graham, who has lived in Pohick for 26 years, said that when she saw in the news that busloads of inmates from the D.C. Jail were being sent to Lorton in July, "I almost threw up." Graham said that the families who live around the prison are in danger from escaped inmates.
Republican State Del. Warren Barry said, "We have a time bomb sitting right down the street. It's not a matter of whether it will go off but when. . . .I say remove the time bomb before it goes off."
John F. Herrity, Republican chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, told the meeting, "The question is: Does the District of Columbia's governing body have the guts to stand up and solve their own problems or are they going to keep shoving them at Fairfax County?"
As in years past, Lorton promises to be a volatile issue in the upcoming state and local elections in Northern Virginia.
Earlier yesterday Fairfax supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth said she plans to ask the county board at its Monday meeting to go to court to force the District to reduce the number of prisoners at Lorton. Duckworth, a Democrat who represents the area surrounding Lorton, said two escapes from the prison earlier this week show the need to reduce the inmate population "to coincide with the number of guards." She said at least 80 more guards are needed based on the number of current prisoners.
District officials are under court order to reduce the population of Lorton's central facility by about 300 inmates to reach its rated capacity of about 1,100 inmates. But Duckworth said that reduction is insufficient.
D.C. Corrections Director James F. Palmer met Thursday evening with a group of residents near Lorton to brief them on two escapes, which occurred Monday when two brothers used wire cutters to clip through a fence at the base of a guard tower.
Palmer said an investigation is under way to determine why guards did not hear the fence being cut or see the escape. He said it also will seek to find out how the prisoners obtained the wire cutters, which a construction crew reported missing a month ago.