The D.C. prison study commission yesterday rejected a resolution to build a new prison for District inmates and instead approved a call for alternatives to incarceration.
The commission's 10-to-3 vote, calling for greater reliance on pretrial release programs and probation, runs counter to a proposal backed by Mayor Marion Barry and federal officials to build a new prison in the District to relieve crowding in the city corrections system.
The panel, named by Barry and the D.C. City Council July 16, rejected what some commissioners termed a compromise proposal to build a 1,000-bed prison combined with expanded programs of alternatives to imprisonment.
The vote on the resolution was taken just days after the District won a 90-day reprieve from a U.S. District Court judge's order that would have forced the District to halt the intake of new inmates at the D.C. Jail.
"The mayor has argued that without any risk to the city, they will reduce the population by 1,000 in 90 days," said commissioner Alvin Bronstein, referring to the agreement between the city and Judge William B. Bryant.
"If the mayor can get rid of 1,000 people without any danger, there might be some others as well," said Bronstein.
Bronstein, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project and a supporter of the successful resolution, said the District's ability under duress to reduce jail crowding showed that further reductions could be made, eliminating the need to build another prison.
However, Ramsey Johnson, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the agreement was based on the referral of newly sentenced prisoners to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is almost 40 percent above capacity.
Johnson said the referral plan, which would help reduce the population of the D.C. Jail by 800 inmates, was "an emergency stopgap" measure and was not an indication that the crowding problem could be solved readily.
Other objections to the resolution came from commissioner Frank Bolden, president of the Federation of Civic Associations, who expressed strong opposition to the possibility that additional halfway houses would be built in the city.
"If a person is tried and convicted, he ought to be incarcerated," he said. "The people in this city don't want criminals walking the streets in their neighborhoods."
The action by the Correctional Facility Study Commission does not terminate its role as a deliberative body, according to the Rev. Edward A. Hailes Sr., the chairman. Hailes said the commission will continue meeting until January.
On Oct. 28, he said, a public hearing will be held and comments from District residents will be taken under consideration by the panel.
He did not rule out the possibility that the commission would alter the stand taken yesterday.
Debate on the resolutions yesterday focused, in part, on the political considerations surrounding the prison issue. At the commission's meeting July 29, Barry had spoken out in favor of building a prison, citing the pressure from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and oth- ers, to add prison space to house the District's growing incarcerated population.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Specter, on July 23 added $30 million to the city's budget to build a new prison in the District.
Noting a need to strike "a balance between contending and influencing interests," Joslyn Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, said. " . . . The question is what is acceptable to those . . . who hold our fate in their hands."
Williams, who voted for the compromise plan of a new prison and alternatives, said the panel should accept the political imperative to build a new prison but should combine its assent with a demand for added funding for alternatives to incarceration.
"I am not concerned with what is politically viable," said Cedric Hendricks, who sponsored the resolution to promote alternatives. "I am concerned with the proper solution."
The vote on the resolution came after the panel's first month of operation, in which it sought to study the problems and define its course. In addition to Barry, the commission heard comments from a variety of criminal justice officials who offered statistical analyses.
The resolution adopted yesterday incorporates a number of programs in use here and around the country. It calls for expanded funding for pretrial third-party release programs in which the court remands a person who has been charged with a crime to a third person, who assumes responsibility as an alternative to incarceration.
In addition, the commission approved establishment of an intensive probation program, such as one in operation in Georgia. The program would emphasize more frequent contact between probationer and probation officer, rather than send the probationer to prison.
The resolution calls for the use of D.C. General Hospital to treat convicted drug abusers who have been diverted from jail or prison.
An amendment sponsored by Bronstein calls for the District to "explore reasonable and safe alternatives to incarceration," which Bronstein said could include the expansion of halfway houses in the city.
In defying Barry and others' wish to build another prison, commissioners argued that nationwide the attempt to solve prison crowding by adding prison space has not worked. Some commissioners on both sides of yesterday's vote agreed that, if a 1,000-bed prison were constructed, it would likely be filled the day it opened.
"Our prisons have been a failure," said the Rev. Eugene A. Marino, regional bishop for the archdiocese of Washington.