In the controversy over where to build additional prison space for the District of Columbia, the press, the public and especially the Northern Virginia congressional delegation conveniently overlook the purpose for which the land in Lorton was acquired between 1910 and 1953. It was acquired by the federal government and the District for use as a reformatory.
Information on the Lorton land purchase is readily available and quite explicit. Yet, despite the astuteness of writers reporting on the problem, none seemingly has taken the time to research the reason for that purchase.
The pressure on the District government to build a prison within the crowded 100 square miles of its jurisdiction has been overwhelming. These pressures have been instigated and continually orchestrated by powful legislators from the state of Virginia, and a constant almost daily barrage from Jack Herrity, Fairfax County board chairman. Herrity has for several years now delegated unto himself the self-appointed role of warden of the Lorton complex, without portfolio of course.
The untold story that no one wants to touch, or is willing to admit, is that now in the 1980s the real estate power interests have been gazing with covetous eyes on those 3,000 plus acres at the Lorton Reformatory site. The Herritys and Parrises are only the current pawns in this multimillion dollar game with the District as the "whipping boy." These pawns will use any pretext, any excuse, fabricated or otherwise to have the D.C. prison facility removed from its Lorton preserve. Time is on their side. They will wait 10, 15 or 20 years to obtain their main objective -- the re-acquisition of this land for real estate development.
As a minority member of the D.C. Correctional Facility Study Commission, I voted in favor of the construction of additional prison space, along with certain reasonable alternative programs that would not flood our city with halfway houses.
Unfortunately, the commission was composed of representatives from the following kinds of agencies: the Self- Help Center for Female Ex-Offenders, the ACLU's National Prison Project, the Washington Correctional Foundation and the National Moratorium on Prison Construction. I never knew whether these commission members had the felons or the city's security as their top priority. They recommended against building a new prison.
But one has got to be built, and the only sensible site for such construction is on the land purchased some 75 years ago for that purpose -- the Lorton Reformatory site.
If members of Congress believe, in spite of past legislation, that they must now knuckle under to their colleagues from Northern Virginia, then other alternatives should be explored immediately. They include utilizing federal land at Lewisburg, Pa., Alderson, W. Va. or Petersburg, Va.
If Congress insists that we now must move from Lorton to the District for prison construction, I would suggest that the only sufficient space to be found in the city is on the Mall, in East or West Potomac Park, or in sections of Rock Creek Park.
The Northern Virginia congressional delegation can then pick any one of these four sites for approval by Congress.