D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity issued a joint appeal yesterday to the Justice Department to resume accepting D.C. inmates at federal prisons in an effort to reduce crowding that could trigger another disturbance such as the one Monday at Lorton Reformatory in Fairfax County.
"Jack and I have not always been together on issues but on this one we feel very strongly," Barry said. "We just want to try not to have this kind of thing happening because of overcrowding."
Eleven inmates at the city's Youth Center I facility were wounded by gunfire during an early-morning melee that started with a power outage. It was the second time in a year that corrections officers have used gunfire to quell a disturbance.
Barry and Herrity said warmer weather, coupled with crowded conditions, likely would result in more prison disturbances. By absorbing D.C. prisoners into the Federal Bureau of Prisons, they said, the Justice Department could reduce a growing public safety threat in Fairfax County.
An agreement reached last August with the Justice Department was ended by federal officials in January after they complained that the city had failed to take promised steps to increase its capacity and improve prison conditions.
Herrity, long a critic of the city's management of the Lorton complex, a 53-acre compound surrounded by fast-developing Fairfax County suburbia, said at a news conference with Barry yesterday that because the city now has agreed to build a 700- to 800-bed prison in the District, the Justice Department should reverse its stand against taking more D.C. prisoners.
"I think the objective of the U.S. attorney and the Justice Department [to force the city to build a prison in the District] has been achieved," Herrity said.
Barry said the federal prison system absorbed 1,600 D.C. inmates between last August and January and said that he believed it can handle more. "The federal prison population has not increased significantly since then," he said. "I think they can do it."
The mayor said rising conviction and arrest rates were placing growing pressures on D.C. prison facilities that are not under court-ordered population ceilings. Citing the city's Occoquan institution, he said he expected more trouble before the summer is over unless the federal government steps in to help.
The disturbance at Youth Center I might have been averted had space been available at neighboring prisons, Barry said.
"If we had had space at some of the other institutions we probably could have moved some of the people to them and avoided some of the problem," he said.