The District can build a new prison anywhere it wants -- as long as it builds it within the District of Columbia. But one thing's for sure: the correction facility at Lorton must go. We don't want it in Fairfax County.
The continued presence of this federally owned and D.C.- operated enclave in Fairfax perpetuates a grotesque vagary of early 20th-century Virginia law. The nature of the correctional facility represents a gross distortion of the original intent of the federal government to install a workhouse/reformatory on the site; Lorton today is a custodial prison for the District of Columbia's criminals.
Lorton's presence within Fairfax County is unique; it is totally outside the jurisdiction of the county. As a neighbor in the community, the facility is unwelcome. Its owners and managers are not accessible to the normal processes of local government. Hence, political pressures for change, legal proceedings against criminal violations, guarantees of security are beyond the county's reach.
The Lorton complex is made up of eight facilities, ranging from the maximum security facility, which houses felons, to the Youth Center II, which houses medium-security adults between the ages of 18 and 23. Inmate capacity, in most cases as ordered by the court, totals 3,909; the actual population on a given day may range up to 4,700.
As a result, the county repeatedly has had to resort to costly and lengthy litigation to ensure the public safety of its residents. For example, in 1975, following a series of escapes, the federal court found Lorton to be a nuisance and a threat to health and welfare of Fairfax County residents. In 1981, after a series of incidents involving Lorton's firing range -- stray bullets were finding their way to nearby homes -- litigation was required before the range was closed and relocated.
However, security is the main concern. Although most escapes have involved inmates on furlough, a significant number have broken out of prison. One escapee took a community family hostage.
Between Sept. 1, 1985, and Jan. 20 this year, there were four "breakout" escapes; two of the escapees remain at large. During these same 41/2 months, there was a riot that required use of arms and tear gas by guards to quell the incident. In addition, there were three major disturbances and 24 instances of assault, stabbing or other violence.
These events vividly underscore the most compelling security issue -- the potential for a riot that could spill beyond Lorton's perimeter and threaten the public safety of the community. It is this potential that gives rise to the continuing anxiety within the Lorton neighborhood.
On top of all this, there are monetary costs beyond calculation involving police, fire and rescue responses; public safety costs as uniformed personnel are reassigned from normal county posts to respond at Lorton; there are psychic costs to anxious neighbors; and there are losses to adjacent landowners reluctant to develop their parcels in the vicinity of Lorton.
This is the critical moment for a decision on moving Lorton; the District has announced its intention to construct a $10 million 400-bed addition there. But Fairfax wants no part of that. Rather, available funds must be diverted to relocate the Lorton Correctional Facility out of the county. It is no longer a question of if; it is a question of when.