South Arlington residents such as Kelly Johnston who fear a proposed minimum-security detention center in their midst should take a second look at what surrounds them now {"Too Close to the Prison Gates," Close to Home, June 3}.

Neighborhood groups are doing their best to marshal pressure against the $4.7 million, 130-bed facility planned for Four Mile Run. I live nearby; I've gotten the leaflets too. Johnston, a neighbor of mine, noted angrily how his young son may soon be able to gaze upon homeless men and women and substance abusers under treatment less than 80 yards from his property.

I've got news for him: his son can gaze a little farther right now onto Four Mile Run and watch drug transactions. He can cock an ear for the wail of sirens as Arlington police cruisers regularly tear through the neighborhood. Toddling past the television, he can see murdered prostitutes being carried out of a Glebe Road apartment tower and a parking garage off Columbia Pike, each about three minutes away. And if his parents drive him 10 minutes to Old Town for pricey ice cream, they risk an attack from mayhem-bent teens -- or wandering into a drug deal punctuated by gunfire.

Placing a detention center here won't import trouble; the problem is already all around us. The people who might be served by a minimum-security facility speckle our community. The irony is that property owners appear angrier about this Arlington County effort to fight crime than about the crime itself, from which we are scarcely immune: there's no force field separating this newly developed, relatively expensive thicket of condos and town homes from its troubled neighbors.

Do I fear a detention center will ruin our corner of Arlington, empty Barcroft Park, repel tennis players and bicyclists? Actually, no -- at least not during the day. Arlington's courthouse jail is surrounded by retailers, theaters and tony restaurants, and the citizenry there doesn't look terribly terrorized. As for after-hours, well, I wouldn't wait for a bus alone in the dark on Four Mile Run now, and I don't expect the new addition will change it much.

Do I worry that a prison just over the creek will hurt property values? I worry more about what happens to all of Arlington, to all our homes and lives and investments, if one nervous neighborhood after the next takes up the NIMBY (not in my back yard!) battle cry, and the need for a detention center goes unmet.

Drugs and homelessness are our dilemmas. It's unbecoming to wish the solutions into other peoples' back yards. -- Tom Farmer

What alarms me and others is not the proposed minimum-security facility but the irrational fear that Kelly Johnston seeks to instill in his neighbors.

According to the county manager, the proposed facility in my neighborhood would have a combination of uses -- for a detoxification program, as a homeless shelter and as a transitional residence for people on work release, weekend detainees and others who do not need to be in a maximum-security facility.

I understand that the manager's push for this facility results from a dangerously overcrowded jail, increasing homelessness and the recent unavailability of Alexandria's detoxification services for Arlingtonians because of surging demand there.

What concerns me is that a jail filled to overcrowding is a public safety problem, either because it potentially prevents incarceration of people who ought to be locked up, or because its conditions may drive some judge to empty it. To me that's far more dangerous than relieving the overcrowding by removing, to a more appropriate place, people who do not belong there.

The people who would be housed in the facility are for the most part out in the community anyway. The site selected by the county manager also is much farther away from residences than the current jail, which is part of Courthouse Plaza. It does not make sense that people should fear the proposed facility, while the location of the jail, which houses some very bad characters, does not seem to bother anybody.

-- Patricia B. Carroll