The first of two community meetings on sites proposed for a new federal prison in the District of Columbia is scheduled for 7 tonight at Dunbar High School, said a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons.

The selection of three possible sites for the proposed $80 million, 1,000-bed Metropolitan Detention Center was announced earlier this month. Two are in Ward 5 near Dunbar High School and the third is seven blocks south of the Capitol in Ward 2.

Government officials said the new prison is needed because of the large number of federal inmates being held in the city jail. The new facility would ease crowding, they said.

Pat Sledge, site acquisition coordinator for the Bureau of Prisons, said residents will be able to express their concerns at the meeting about having a federal prison as a neighbor. "This is an open process," she said. "We are there to listen."

Sledge said concerns raised would be addressed in a draft report that would be finished in March or April. At that time, a second meeting will be scheduled.

Several elected officials, including D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5), have announced their opposition to the construction of a prison anywhere in downtown Washington.

Sledge said ground may be broken for the new facility at one of the three sites by early summer.