Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) renewed his call yesterday for construction of a new prison for the District to relieve crowding, one day before his subcommittee resumes hearings on the problems of the city's corrections programs.
"I do want a new prison," said Specter, who has been reappointed as chairman of the D.C. Appropriations subcommittee. "I think a prison is necessary because I think the current prison is overcrowded and I believe judges today in the District of Columbia are not sentencing people -- tough criminals who ought to go to jail -- because of insufficient space."
Specter said that problems of crowding at the city-run Lorton Reformatory in southern Fairfax County will be exacerbated with the implementation in the District of new rules for revoking the probation or parole of persons arrested and charged with a new offense.
Mayor Marion Barry contends that the city already has done sufficient expansion at Lorton and disputes criticism that the facility is overcrowded.
He said recently that he would go along with construction of a new regional facility provided the federal government pays for it and locates it on federal property.
During a meeting with reporters yesterday at his Capitol Hill office, Specter said the site issue is still very much up in the air. "If you have it in the District of Columbia, you draw fewer objections from Virginia and Maryland," he said.
D.C. City Council Chairman David Clarke said yesterday that if additional prison facilities are built, they should be at the Lorton complex and not in the District.
However, if the city and federal authorities seek to build a new prison in the District, Clarke said, then no area of the city containing federal land should be ruled out as a possibile site -- including Rock Creek Park and part of the National Zoo in Northwest Washington.
Clarke sent a letter yesterday to the federal Bureau of Prisons requesting studies on the feasibility of building a new prison facility at 13 federally owned sites throughout the city's eight wards.
"I believe that an examination of those possibilities would indicate that in fact Lorton is the better site," Clarke wrote.
During his meeting with reporters, Specter also proposed that the federal government consider increasing spending to help convert the District to a "model city" for job training and criminal justice.
"All the cities in this country have enormous problems and they are typified by what goes on in Washington," said Specter, whose subcommittee reviews District spending and programs. "My thought is that this city ought to be the model city for the country."
Specter also said he intends to hold congressional hearings on the growing drug problem in the District in the wake of an outbreak of heroin overdoses last weekend.
"We'll try to get some extra federal participation from the Drug Enforcement Adminstration -- additional agents to help local police and help customs with the influx of heroin that comes into this city and this country in a variety of ways."