Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity yesterday blasted a D.C. City Council resolution that would urge the mayor to abandon the search for a new prison site in the District and instead expand Lorton Reformatory.
The resolution, sponsored by Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) and backed by eight other council members, was referred to Rolark's Committee on the Judiciary. She said she plans to bring the resolution to the full council for a vote as soon as possible.
In other action, the council gave preliminary approval to a measure accelerating parole eligibility for prisoners who complete educational or vocational programs.
Herrity said in an interview that adoption of the prison site resolution would be irresponsible, and said he and other Virginia officials will "see if we can turn up the heat on these people" by contacting the Justice Department and Congress.
Congress has has appropriated $30 million to construct a prison provided that it is located in the District.
"Wilhelmina Rolark is one of the most notorious political hacks I've ever met in the Washington area," Herrity said. "The inherent stupidity of Mrs. Rolark and her gang is that they have $30 million from Congress that they can't spend at Lorton . . . . An irresponsible politician never talks about where the money is going to come from."
In response to Herrity, Rolark said "the mere fact that he called me a name will not make me back down one bit." She stressed that the District has 2,300 acres at the Lorton tract in southern Fairfax County, which has been the site of a District prison since 1913, and does not need to consult with Virginia officials about building facilities there.
"In my opinion, he Herrity is engaging in irresponsible rhetoric," said Rolark. "He is ducking the issue. We can make a decision to use our land, which is zoned for a prison. It is not a matter of dumping our problem. That is our land. I just can't believe that Congress in its wisdom would be adverse to us as elected officials deciding where we feel a facility should be built."
Mayor Marion Barry and federal officials have been negotiating to find a suitable site in the District, and Barry has promised to release a final list of three or four possible sites soon.
In a letter to Rolark, Barry stated his opposition to the council resolution and said "our prison problems cannot be dumped exclusively in the lap of our Virginia neighbors." Barry also said that adoption of the resolution might jeopardize the city's relationship with suburban jurisdictions in other matters, including sludge disposal and mutual aid pacts.
Rolark said Barry's argument was weak. "I found it a little difficult to believe he had written that," said Rolark, adding that "it remains to be seen" whether Barry's position will have any influence on the resolution's sponsors.
Council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), a backer of the resolution, said she does not plan to drop her support.
"I'm from Virginia and I don't mind the prison being in my state. There is land out there," said Mason. "I don't want a prison in the District of Columbia. This is a small land area."
But council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2), one of four on the council who did not sponsor the resolution, said he agrees with Barry.
"I don't think it is politically possible to put it at Lorton only, and I don't even think it makes much sense to recommend that," said Wilson. "I think it the resolution would just expedite the federal government's effort to take over the process totally."
Wilson said he believes that the best solution would be to construct new prison space both at Lorton and on property near the D.C. Jail in Southeast Washington.
The council had been scheduled to vote yesterday on Rolark's proposal to establish a study commission to look at alternatives to sentencing as a means of dealing with prison overcrowding. But Rolark tabled the bill until April, saying that she needed more time to work out concerns raised by other members.
Five members of the council voted against the measure providing quicker parole eligibility for prisoners who complete academic or vocational programs. They are Wilson, Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), and John Ray (D-At Large).
Finally, the council adopted a resolution indicating that the District government should release $4 million in funds designated for the funding of the quasi-public Economic Development Finance Corporation. The money could not be used for the corporation until private businesses had committed funds. The District's banking community has provided more than $1 million to fund the corporation.