Dozens of angry residents confronted federal prison officials at Dunbar High School last night and objected to plans to build a detention center in the District.
All but one of about 40 speakers roundly condemned the proposed $80 million, 1,000-bed facility, saying that it would create a negative image for children and that the money would be better spent for housing and jobs.
Officials of the federal Bureau of Prisons say a detention facility is needed in Washington because of the large number of federal inmates being held in the city jail. Two of the three prospective sites for the facility are near Florida and New York avenues NE, in Ward 5, and the third is just off South Capitol Street in the unit block of I Street SE, in Ward 2.
Pat Sledge, the site acquisition coordinator for the bureau, was booed when she listed construction jobs as one of the benefits of a new prison.
"Who wants construction jobs?" a man yelled from the audience. "We want real jobs."
Sledge had said in an earlier interview that questions raised at the meeting would be answered in a draft environmental report expected to be completed in March or April. She said the final decison on the site would be made by summer.
The only person to speak in favor of the prison was Jeralean Wilson, who identified herself as a D.C. resident. "I can't understand why so many negative things are being said," she said. "The center will lower crime statistics in D.C. and it will employ 100 people."
As several people booed, Wilson said, "If this was up to me I'd put it in my mother's back yard."
Tony Norman, president of the Bloomingdale Civic Association, was one of several speakers who called for a coalition to stop the federal government from building a jail anywhere in the District.
"They intend to build a prison here," he said. "The lines are drawn. We are prepared to do battle and we will do battle."
He sat down to chants of "battle, battle, battle."
One of the last speakers was Brian Moore, who identified himself as a Ward 2 activist.
"In 1981 we opposed a done deal called the international trade center. Everyone wanted it except the citizens. We didn't want it and we won," he said.
He urged those who'd gathered at the school to join together and fight the federal government again.
D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5) was the only council member to speak at the hearing. He, too, said he was opposed to the federal jail, saying the money would be better spent for education, jobs and housing.