Some, such as officials in the D.C. Department of Corrections, have said that the only realistic place to build a new prison is at the Lorton Reformatory in Fairfax. I disagree. The new facility should be built within the borders of the District of Columbia.
The new prison could be constructed on the old jail site at 19th and Independence Avenue SE. We could also build an additional level on top of the D.C. Jail. This two-fold approach would maximize existing resources and minimize community opposition, since the old jail site is already thought of as a place where people are incarcerated. Furthermore, there is a special operations unit already in the area, and the National Guard is within proximity of the old jail site, increasing security.
This new facility could house offenders who have committed misdemeanors and other minor offenses, thereby reducing overcrowding at the D.C. Jail and Lorton. It could also be used to separate the more serious criminal offenders from those who have committed lesser offenses, house those in need of treatment for drug abuse and provide for a separate women's correctional wing.
While I stongly advocate the construction of a new facility, I firmly believe we should continue our ongoing efforts to examine alternatives to incarceration, as well as establish programs that are designed to prevent incarceration in the first place.
A new prison should not be constructed in an atmosphere of panic, without proper planning, design and a clear sense of purpose. But the demand for more protection and greater public safety is at risk unless we construct a new prison. It's a decision that can't be postponed.