Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), reviving a political issue that has often pitted his state against the District of Columbia, proposed a 20-year plan yesterday to shut down the District's Lorton Correctional Complex.

But in contrast to the bitter rhetoric that the prison has often sparked, Wolf's proposal brought a conciliatory response from senior District officials, including Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon.

Wolf said he will ask next year's Congress to appoint a 21-member commission charged with closing the facility by 2010 and replacing it with "state-of-the-art" prisons to be built in the District. The Lorton prison is in southern Fairfax County and houses about 6,200 inmates.

Wolf's Lorton proposal marks a political departure for him. He represents northern Fairfax County -- the prison is outside his district -- and he has rarely spoken publicly about the facility. In the past, Lorton has been the subject of repeated attacks by Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.), who was defeated last month and leaves office in two weeks. District officials repeatedly accused Parris of District-bashing.

Wolf said in his statement that District officials are doing "an excellent job" managing problems at Lorton and that "my remarks today are not meant in any way to criticize them." He said that he first became concerned about Lorton after counseling inmates there several years ago, and that he is seeking better facilities aimed at providing opportunities for rehabilitation.

District officials said they believe Wolf's intentions are good, even if his idea is not.

Dixon said that although "clearly the District of Columbia cannot house" new prison facilities, "I hope and expect {Wolf} will play a constructive role in this problem." D.C. Del.-Elect Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said, "I appreciate {Wolf's} cooperative approach that seems to contemplate a joint agreement before anything goes forward."

And D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) said the District "just can't house any more {prison} facilities in the space we have," but he said Wolf appeared to be acting in good faith. "There's been a change of attitudes toward the District," Crawford said. "We have very positive leaders in the region who want to sit down and work together."

Not even Rep.-Elect James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who will replace Parris and whose district includes Lorton, seemed to mind Wolf's venture onto his turf. "I could play politics or make cracks about him wanting to help me out in my district," Moran said, "but I trust his motivation."

Wolf's proposal and the measured response to it reflect what several public officials in the Washington area have said is a new spirit of cooperation among them. Two of the most sharp-tongued officials in the region, Parris and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, leave office next month, and area leaders say they are optimistic that working relationships between local governments will improve.

The Lorton complex has long been a huge source of friction between Virginia and the District.

Virginia politicians have lambasted District officials whenever problems occurred at the facility. But until Wolf's initiative, there appears to have been no formal proposal to shut the facility.

Officials said yesterday that, even with a 20-year timetable, the problems facing the plan are enormous.

Obtaining federal money to subsidize construction -- a key part of Wolf's plan -- will be tough because of budget constraints.

Locating new prison sites in the District would be politically and practically difficult.

Wolf did not rule out looking for sites outside the District, but said he thinks a recent proposal to build two new prisons in West Virginia "will not fly" because the locations are too far.

Wolf said he wants to close Lorton because "what is going on in those facilities is inhumane. To just stick people in there for 10 years, give them no opportunity for rehabilitation and then expect them to come out and be citizens is not realistic.

"I don't think there's any real interest in this issue in my district," Wolf said. "And I don't think you can find one person to say I'm after the District. I think we need to do something. And if not this, what?"

Several District officials criticized the composition of the commission Wolf proposed, which would include nine members appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, nine by Dixon and three by President Bush. They said the District would be underrepresented.

And they emphasized what they said was the lack of space for new prisons. "Where the hell would we put it?" Crawford asked. "Rock Creek Park?"

But several said they think Wolf's idea is constructive and could start a productive debate about Lorton's future. "The adversarial approach has obviously proved bankrupt," Norton said.