ARLINGTON County is having trouble finding a site for a combined pre-release facility for prison inmates returning to the community, for a drug treatment center and for a homeless shelter. The county decided to package the three in one $4.7 million center because Arlington is small and densely developed and much of the available land is expensive, and because of the strain anticipated in gaining community acceptance for three separate projects.
The pre-release facility has its own urgency in order to help relieve severe overcrowding at the county jail, which sometimes houses more than double its intended capacity of 164 and where there are long waiting lists for educational and vocational classes. The new facility would house only those inmates in the final year of their sentences and only those convicted of relatively minor offenses, such as shoplifting and driving while intoxicated. They would have a gradual transition back to life on the outside through work-release programs.
The site originally proposed, on land near Barcroft Park, may not have been ideal. Hundreds of prospective neighbors stridently objected, arguing that the facility would make the neighborhood unsafe and that the whole concept was being forced onto the community. The Barcroft plan has now been shelved.
Four other sites have been proposed -- two along South Four Mile Run Drive, one near the Arlington sewage treatment plant and one near Arlington Mill Drive. A citizens' advisory panel is being enlisted to suggest other possible sites, and that should help gain the requisite community approval. A combined-use center is badly needed. County officials were right to propose its creation, and they must follow through.