Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) said yesterday that he and Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.) will introduce legislation to block the District's plans to build a new 400-inmate facility at Lorton Reformatory in Virginia.
The move came four days after D.C. Mayor Marion Barry requested $9 million from the federal government to finance the construction.
Parris said the bill will be introduced in the House and Senate tomorrow to prohibit the construction at the District's prison in southern Fairfax County. The bill will include provisions aimed at forcing the city to accelerate its selection of a site for a new prison in the District, Parris said.
On Friday, Barry notified the chairmen of the House and Senate committees that oversee city spending that he intends to spend $9 million to build four new modular buildings at Lorton that would house 100 prisoners each. The money would come from $30 million in funds appropriated by Congress for the construction of a new prison within the city and would have to be repaid.
The bill creating the $30 million fund for the new prison originally contained a prohibition against expansion at Lorton. But in December, wording was added to allow the city to use the $10 million appropriated for this year "to meet emergency needs related to the Department of Corrections."
City officials -- citing severe crowding at all of the city's nine prisons and court-ordered population ceilings at four of them -- have said that an emergency exists.
Trible, Parris and some other Virginia politicians have complained that the city's plans violate the intent of the original measure.
City officials said last week that they need the new buildings at Lorton to relieve crowding because the federal government was canceling an agreement in effect since August under which newly sentenced city prisoners were put in federal prisons.
A U.S. Justice Department official said the agreement, which was canceled last Wednesday, was ended because of District inaction on long-term solutions to the crowding problems. Under the agreement, the federal prison system had taken 1,600 newly sentenced prisoners from the District.
Parris said the bill will call for the Justice Department to resume the agreement for one year. It would go into effect when the District's prisons reach their capacity. But the agreement would be canceled if the city did not submit to Congress a list of sites in the city for temporary prisons 10 days after the bill is enacted. Twenty days later the District would be required to submit a list of city sites for a new prison.
Another provision would prohibit the District from increasing the number of inmates at any of Lorton's eight facilities above the intended or court-ordered capacity. The bill will state that the District would not be able to use early release or early parole of violent offenders to alleviate prison crowding.
City Administrator Thomas Downs declined to comment on the proposed bill "other than we hope to be able to address the legislation in any hearings that might be held in either the House or the Senate District committees and that we hope it does not alter the course the mayor announced" to build the modular units at Lorton.
Downs reiterated Barry's contention that, under the D.C. Code, the U.S. attorney general has responsibility for housing the city's prisoners, noting that "in home rule [legislation] we were never granted full home rule in the criminal justice system" of the city.
Parris yesterday called that argument a "smoke screen" and "the old straw man," saying that city officials invoke it "anytime someone suggests something that is not consistent with the way the District wants to go. I voted for home rule . . . . I think the District of Columbia has wrestled around with the problem of what to do with its surplus prisoners for too long."
Meanwhile, city officials yesterday continued to decline to comment on a blistering report submitted to the Corrections Department and other officials that said the department suffers from "chronic managerial ineptitude," political interference and official inaction.
The study, conducted by a recognized criminologist and reported in Sunday's Washington Post, recommended the appointment of an outside manager similar to a court-appointed "special master" to run the agency and "carry out a thorough top-to-bottom reform of the District's penal system."
City Council Chairman David A. Clarke said yesterday that he has requested a copy of the report, adding that "certainly an independent managerial review is in order." He said he agreed with the report's recommendation that the highest priority should be given to bringing the city's female prisoners back to the District. Most now serve their sentences in federal institutions.