The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors urged the Virginia General Assembly yesterday to initiate action to reclaim state and local control over the land on which the District of Columbia's Lorton prison complex stands.
In a resolution that passed 8 to 0, the supervisors called for the repeal of a 1902 law under which Virginia allowed the federal government to buy the 3,500 acres and urged that the land be placed under the "exclusive jurisdiction" of the state and county.
Supervisor T. Farrell Egge (R-Mount Vernon), who sponsored the resolution, said its goal was simple. "Obviously, we'd all like to have this the prison out of the county. The purpose of this legislation is to get the ball rolling."
The resolution was viewed by others, including some Virginia officials, more as a formality because the county is seeking to have the land "voluntarily" returned to Virginia at no cost. An aide to a member of the Virginia congressional delegation called the resolution "largely symbolic."
"I guess it's all right to ask for this, but if you're really serious about getting rid of the prison , you're going to have to buy it back," said Fairfax Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III (R-Mason). "I just don't see them handing this over to us."
The prison complex, in southeastern Fairfax County near the Prince William County line, is operated by the District of Columbia and houses more than 4,000 city inmates in eight prisons, many of which are crowded and have court-ordered population ceilings.
In recent years, Virginia and Fairfax officials have complained repeatedly that the prisons are poorly managed and not secure. County Board Chairman John F. Herrity recently called them a "powder keg" because of crowding.
The land, near a number of new housing subdivisions, generally is thought to have almost unlimited development potential if the prisons are removed.
District corrections officials declined to comment immediately on the resolution.
It urges the legislature to seek that the Lorton site be "voluntarily conveyed back to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the county of Fairfax . . . " and urges the federal government, which allowed the District to use the land, to terminate any agreements it has with the District when they expire.
According to a federal official, who asked not to be named, the land for Lorton was assembled by Congress in a number of transactions and the District was granted use of it by congressional action. A search of congressional archives has disclosed a "grant of use" from the federal government to the city with no expiration date, the official said.
Peter Loomis, an aide to Republican Sen. John W. Warner, said that the appropriate congressional forum for the matter is the Senate Appropriation Committee's subcommittee on the District. "If the senator is petitioned by the General Assembly to bring this issue before Congress . . . he would consider" taking it to that committee, Loomis said.
State Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax) said he was "very pessimistic" about return of the land to state and county control. "I suspect that all these kinds of things get deep-sixed when they get to the Hill," he said.
Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee) was absent when his colleagues approved the resolution.
Staff writers Barbara Blechman and Nancy Lewis contributed to this report.