THE FEDERAL government, through its Bureau of Prisons, is making the District an offer it can't afford to refuse. It involves the perennially overcrowded conditions at the D.C. Jail and a welcome way to provide some relief for that facility, not to mention the additional peace of mind that area residents will enjoy. Simply put, the federal government will build a 1,000-bed jail in Washington that could be occupied by 700 or more D.C. criminals. But the scope of the effort goes much farther.
The entire $80 million cost to build the jail will come from federal funds, not from the cash-strapped D.C. government. The $12 million annual cost to run the facility will also be paid by federal monies. City officials won't even have to assume the task of finding a site for the project. Federal officials will pick the site, purchase it and endure -- on their own -- the rancorous community opposition that has already begun. The hiring of the jail's staff, with a preference given to city residents, will also be handled by the Bureau of Prisons.
All city officials really have to do is say "thank you," and agree to not foul up matters by lodging objections to any and all prospective sites, regardless of how thoughtful the planning involved. But city officials from the D.C. Council and an Advisory Neighborhood Commission are already failing at these tasks.
Federal officials took nearly a year to find three possible locations -- two in a Ward 5 industrial area near New York and Florida avenues, one at a former salvage yard in a Southeast section of Ward 2 -- and were careful to avoid sites near residential areas. But D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Sr., who represents Ward 5, is "totally against" any such facility in his ward and said, through a spokesman, that his constituents "are concerned with so many other factors, such as drugs and crime, they don't need another element introduced." The affected ANC in Ward 2 is also set to oppose the new jail.
This new facility will not solve the city's crime and corrections problems, but it will provide needed relief. At times, the D.C. Jail has been so crowded that prisoners returning from work release details have had to wait outside the facility for hours before they could get back in. The new jail will alleviate the need to keep federal inmates who are awaiting transfers to federal prisons inside the D.C. Jail. This is an effort that the city's elected officials should applaud and support.