Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity said yesterday that he will ask the U.S. attorney's office in Virginia to investigate the operation of Lorton Reformatory to determine if the District has been "criminally negligent" in its management of the prison.
Herrity said "severe overcrowding" caused a disturbance Wednesday at the institution's Youth Center 2 facility during which six inmates were injured in fights with other inmates that were stopped only after corrections officers fired tear gas into their midst.
"The District is just dilly-dallying around while people are being shot and maimed and killed in this facility, along with the possibility of escapes," Herrity charged. "I think what the District is doing is tantamount to criminal negligence."
D.C. Corrections Department spokesman LeRoy Anderson said yesterday that department head James Palmer would not respond to Herrity's allegations. A spokeswoman for the mayor also declined to comment.
Herrity, an outspoken critic of the District-run prison who has long advocated its removal from southern Fairfax County, said it is "unconscionable" that the city has not moved faster toward building a new prison within the District's boundaries.
Congress has approved funds for building a new prison, and Mayor Marion Barry has endorsed the idea and appointed a 15-member commission to study the issue, which has generated some controversy over possible construction sites.
Corrections Department officials said that Wednesday's incident at Youth Center 2 involved about 60 to 100 inmates who were fighting among themselves with chains and pipes and other homemade weapons. The fracas, which started about 4 p.m., began after two inmates were caught by others stealing property from inmate lockers and was defused about 20 minutes later after guards fired eight rounds of tear gas, officials said.
Six inmates and four corrections officers received minor injuries during the disturbance, according to Anderson. He said that one mattress was set afire and about 20 windows were broken during the melee.
"I would put this whole thing in a category of a fight after a football game," he said. "That's all it was, a fight."
Anderson said the facility, which has an official capacity of 255 inmates, was housing 290 at the time of the incident. He blamed the overcrowding on transfers from the D.C. Jail, which last fall had to reduce the number of prisoners incarcerated there to meet a court-ordered ceiling.
Anderson said that Youth Center 1, the other youth facility at Lorton, is also under court order not to exceed a capacity of 406, and that the facility had 398 inmates there Wednesday.
There is no cap on the number of inmates allowed at Youth Center 2, Anderson said.
Herrity said yesterday that Fairfax County officials were promptly notified of the disturbance. In the past, the board chairman has severely criticized District officials for failing to tell county authorities when there has been a disturbance at the prison.
Herrity said that he will "vigorously pursue" an investigation of criminal negligence on the part of the District in running the institution.