The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court decision that declared the District of Columbia's Lorton Reformatory in Fairfax County to be a public nuisance and gave the city 90 days to develop a plan to solve the problem

Fairfax County officials immediately praised the decision as a victory in their effort to oust the prison,where numerous escapes have occurred, from the rural expanses of south-eastern Fairfax.

"We think it's fantastic," said John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors. "It's a victory for the people that live in that area as well as for the county."

Assistant D.C. Corporation Counsel David P. Sutton said he suspected that the District will now have to devise a plan to improve the prison although no formal decision had been made since he had not read the appeals court decision.

When he ruled in favor of the county last August, U.S. District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan in Alexandria suggested that the city could improve security at the prison by installation of more fences and lights and assist residents near the reformatory by speedier notification to Fairfax police of escapes. He also said the city should re-evaluate the method for classifying prisoners as medium or minimum security risks.

District officials appealed Bryan's decision declaring Lorton a nuisance because they felt evidence in the case did not warrant such a declaration, Sutton said.

In a 3-to-0 opinion, the appeals court said, "The measurts which the court may require to abate the nuisance will, to a large extent; define the nuisance." The court said it was "impratical . . . to consider the question of what nuisance exists" without knowing what Bryan may eventually order the District to do.

Herrity said, "We would like to see the thing (Lorton) moved to the District of Columbia." But he conceded "The chances of that are somewhat limited."

Lorton is the only nonfederal prison located outside the jurisdiction that operates it.

Herrity said the country plans to submit a proposal to improve the reformatory. He said the proposal would include at least three alternatives, including the immediate relocation of the facility outside the country, gradual phasing out of the prison and provisions for better security.

The number of escapes from Lorton generally has decided over the last few years, dropping from 71 in 1971 to 13 for the first six months of last year, according to the latest city figures.

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Fairfax alleged in its suit that the air pollution laws. Tha county also asked for $12 million in damages.

Bryan ruled that the prison has violated pollution standards but he did not award the county any damages.

During the two days of testimony last July, an independent criminal justice consultant said Lorton "represents a state of decay and lack of maintenance that I have never witnessed in the United States before" and that he didn't think the prison "is fit for human habitation."

Many Virginias have opposed the existence of the prison in Fairfax ever since Congress purchased land in 1910 to build the reformatory.

The Fairfax county suit stemmed from a prisoner rebellion Christmas night, 1974, in which escapees took 10 prison workers as hostages, four inmates escaped, one prisoner was killed and a county resident abducted.

A special Virginia commission studying the feasibility of state acquisition of Lorton has recommended converting the prison complex into a regional park.