The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, in its strongest response yet to recurring problems at Lorton Reformatory, formally asked the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria yesterday to investigate the District's operation of the prison.
Spurred by Board Chairman John F. Herrity's charge that the District's response to inmate violence bordered on "criminal negligence," the supervisors voted unanimously for the inquiry as a way to stem disturbances inside the prison and address concerns of residents living near the facility in southeastern Fairfax County.
The call for a formal investigation followed last week's disturbance at the institution's Youth Center 2, where fighting broke out among 60 to 100 inmates brandishing chains, pipes and other homemade weapons. Six inmates and four corrections officers received minor injuries in the fracas, a mattress was set afire and 20 windows were broken.
Officers fired tear gas into the crowd to quell the disturbance.
D.C. Corrections Department spokesman LeRoy Anderson likened the melee to "a fight after a football game. That's all it was, a fight." But the supervisors, saying it was yet another example of mismanagement at the prison, warned that such incidents could lead to prisoner escapes and endanger Fairfax residents.
Herrity said District officials have "blatantly refused" to address those problems. He cited 16 instances in the last year in which inmates either have escaped or engaged in violent fights at Lorton.
Herrity has long accused the District not only of mismanaging the facility but of failing to keep Fairfax officials informed of disturbances. He said yesterday that a criminal investigation may be the only answer.
Last week, D.C. Corrections Director James Palmer announced a major reorganization that will give complete supervisory authority to the top administrators of the eight facilities at Lorton. The plan, which Palmer said is designed to improve control of prisoners and internal communications, will be implemented during the next year.
Justin W. Williams, who took office yesterday as the interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, declined comment on Fairfax County's request.
During the discussion of Lorton at yesterday's board meeting, Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) criticized her colleagues for supporting residential development near the prison while saying they were concerned with people's safety. She said the board's recent approval of a large residential development, known as Silverbrook, will place thousands more people in the vicinity of the prison.
Herrity and Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) countered that the property cited by Moore was zoned for residential development and the county had no power to stop it.
Herrity, an advocate of moving the prison out of Fairfax County, has criticized Mayor Marion Barry and other District officials for not moving faster to find a prison site in the District. Congress has approved funds for building a new prison. Barry has endorsed the idea and appointed a 15-member commission to study the issue.
On another issue, two supervisors praised a controversial proposal to build luxury apartments for retired Army officers on 107 acres of surplus federal land at Fort Belvoir.
The plan has been condemned by a congressional oversight committee because the development would exclude everyone but retired Army officers and their spouses, but a private, nonprofit group of Army officers is still hoping to buy the property at a forthcoming auction monitored by the U.S. General Services Administration.
McConnell said the retired officers "deserve any break they can get," adding, "I don't only represent the poor and indigent."
Supervisor T. Farrell Egge (R-Mount Vernon) noted that the development would require no government subsidies. He said the retired officers "will be paying the full freight" for their housing.