Time for a quick quiz on an issue in the news.
Have the following officials said "yes" or "no" to the idea of building a new District prison to alleviate overcrowding at Lorton reformatory and the D.C. Jail?
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa), chairman of the D.C. Appropriations subcommittee.
U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova.
Mayor Marion Barry.
The D.C. City Council.
Time to check your answers.
Specter and diGenova have pushed for a new prison for months.
If you said yes and no for Barry, both answers are correct. For months Barry fought the idea of a new prison, then decided that he would accept one, provided that the prison is federally financed and located on federal land.
The city council has said nothing. A few members have commented on the issue individually, but no one member speaks for the entire council.
While city and congressional officials search for a prison site and Barry warns that the prison could turn up in any one of the city's eight wards, let us pretend that the council plans to take a stand before a prison is constructed. After all, despite the talk, no official decision has been made.
The council already has some options. First, it could support the federal sites suggestions offered by City Council Chairman David A. Clarke who, despite his suggestions, favors expanding the Lorton facility. Clarke recommended that such places as Rock Creek Park, part of the National Zoological Park and the National Arboretum be considered for a prison.
On the other hand, the council could take some action on two bills pending before the council's judiciary committee.
One of the bills, introduced by Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), would establish a seven-member commission to assist and advise the council regarding the development of programs and institutions that could serve as alternatives to incarceration. Rolark has said, and her bill makes clear, that she does not favor building a new prison.
"New prison construction is extremely costly and would take years to undertake," states the bill. " . . . While new prison construction might temporarily ease overcrowding, it will have no long term effect on either the crime problem or the problem of prison overcrowding."
On the other hand, Rolark's commission would develop recommendations for offenders who have been "deemed by the court to be amenable to rehabilitation" and give the council a report outlining the appropriate legislation at the end of the commission's six-month term.
During the fiscal 1986 budget process Rolark's committee voted to place money in the budget for the commission, but the full council removed it because the legislation had not been adopted.
The other bill, introduced by H. R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) would establish a commission to study the cost of building a new prison or renovating an existing structure, look at possible sites for a new structure and suggest innovative correctional programs.
Crawford first introduced the bill in October 1983 and reintroduced it in January. There is no doubt that his view about a solution differs from Rolark's.
"I believe that it is incumbent on this council to address this very serious problem," Crawford said." . . . studies of the nature of the current prison population indicate that the majority of the residents do not represent a soft prison population which would be appropriate for early release or halfway house programs. It is an inescapable fact that the District of Columbia must provide an additional correctional facility."
If the number of cosponsors is an indication of council support, and often it is not, the Crawford bill, with nine sponsors, may set the stage for the council's first stand on the prison issue.
Since January, the council's attention has been focused on adoption of the fiscal 1986 budget and a new rent control law. When the new rent law is adopted by the end of the month, the council will begin looking for new issues and the prison questions seems worthy.
District residents interested in giving the council some advice about prison facilities will get the opportunity on May 8 and 9, when Rolark holds public hearings on her bill, the Crawford bill, and a bill to regulate the rehabilitation and punishment of youth offenders.
"Those are just the public hearings," Rolark said. "After that the committee will decide whether to act on the bills."