Archbishop James A. Hickey and a group of chaplains from the D.C. Jail and Lorton Reformatory have stated opposition to building new jail and prison facilities for the District, an issue being debated among District officials and members of Congress as a way to relieve serious overcrowding.
In separate letters to Mayor Marion Barry and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on the District, the archbishop and the correctional chaplains said more building leads to more people being put in jail and more overcrowding.
They advocated that the city invest its resources in alternatives to jail, to dealing with the District's drug addiction problem and providing job training.
"The tragedy is that our correction facilities rarely 'correct.' Rehabilitation efforts are often nonexistant or poorly organized. We end up warehousing inmates," Hickey said in his letters to Barry and Specter.
Specter and law enforcement officials have been pressing for additional prison facilities, predicting that crackdowns on crime as well as new mandatory sentencing laws will result in major increases in the prison population.
Barry has resisted building new jail or prison facilities. But recently, when pressed on the issue by Specter, the mayor said he would not oppose construction of new facilities if the federal government would pay for them.
"The proposal to solve this overcrowding through new jail construction has been tried repeatedly throughout this nation and has only led to more inmates, more cost to the taxpayers and more dehumanization through overcrowding," the chaplains said in their letter to Barry, a copy of which was sent to Specter.
The group of more than 20 chaplains at the D.C. institutions were joined in their letter by chaplains at the Montgomery County and Prince George's County detention facilities.
Their arguments echoed those made by Barry in the past about trying to use alternatives such as restitution and community service rather than imprisonment for nonviolent crimes.