Mayor Marion Barry said yesterday he believes he has the authority to plan and build a prison in the District without the approval of the D.C. Council, which is mired in a complex procedural question about whether it can hold hearings on the matter during its summer recess.
The assertion, made during a tour of the fire-damaged Occoquan prison units at Lorton Reformatory, added fuel to an increasingly heated debate between the mayor and council over the $50 million prison, which is scheduled to be built in Southeast Washington by September 1989.
Barry, accompanied by his top corrections aides, led reporters on a brief inspection of the Occoquan I and Occoquan II facilities, where last week inmates set fires to several dormitories, resulting in 14 damaged buildings and injuries to 32 inmates and public safety officers.
Truncated roof lines, charred bricks and collapsed structural elements showed the damage at several of the dormitories. The toll was even heavier in the administrative offices where corrections officials handle the classification and parole functions that determine an inmate's future in the prison system. No damage estimate has yet been provided.
Meanwhile, Barry said reports by a prison consultant, one of which was blamed by the mayor for sparking the disturbance at Occoquan, would no longer be made public. Instead, he said, her "raw reports" would be reviewed and incorporated into reports by retired judge John D. Fauntleroy Sr., a special assistant to the mayor.
An attorney representing inmates at Lorton's Central facility said he "would take exception" to such an arrangement and insisted on receiving the consultant's reports directly or "we will back in court seeking to have a special master."
With pressure to relieve overcrowding with a new prison growing even more intense in the wake of the Occoquan fire, Barry said yesterday that although he hopes to win council support for his proposed 700- to 800-bed drug treatment facility and prison, he believes he does not need it to proceed.
The claim is significant because Council Chairman David A. Clarke has repeatedly called for council involvement in the planning of the prison. Clarke has accused Barry of keeping the issues out of the council's hands and "stonewalling" action on a new prison until after the Sept. 9 primary election.
Barry said yesterday that under the language of Congress' $30 million appropriation to build part of the prison he could act without support of the council, nine of whose 13 members earlier this year sponsored a resolution opposing the prison proposal.
"I would hope I would have the authority . . . to go in and build this prison," he said. "I think I do."
The mayor noted that he has already drawn $10 million of the appropriation under emergency provisions included in the congressional directive and believes he could get the rest of the money on the same basis.
"We got the $10 million, didn't we?" he said. The $10 million is being spent to construct a 400-bed modular prison at Lorton and to develop preliminary plans for the new drug treatment prison in the District.
Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, said yesterday that the panel would leave it up to the mayor and the council to decide how to fulfill the committee's mandate to bring it a prison plan.
If the council did not approve the mayor's proposal, "it would have some impact on the committee . . . but I'm not sure what," Dixon said in a brief interview, adding, "We would not ignore the city council."
He also said he thought Barry had delayed too long in getting a plan to the council.
Clarke, in an interview yesterday, said he would have to study the congressional appropriation's language before venturing an opinion on the council's power to reject Barry's prison plan.
Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), whose ward includes the proposed site for the prison, sharply criticized Clarke and other council members for what she termed their foot-dragging on the prison construction issue.
"They are avoiding the issue," she said, calling the prison a politically "hot question."
"I think we should stop playing games with the public," Winter said.
Clarke and his colleagues, meanwhile, were scrambling to resolve a thorny question raised when Barry submitted a resolution late Monday outlining a timetable for the new prison -- just hours before the council began its summer recess. The resolution, accompanied by a letter urging the council to hold hearings, set a deadline for the submission of a detailed consultant's plan by Sept. 5, four days before the primary election in which Barry is seeking reelection.
Clarke, in a memo circulated to council members, said hearings during a summer recess were "highly irregular" and have "never been done in the 12 years of council history." Speaking later with reporters, the chairman said he would not be opposed to holding the hearings.
Gregory Mize, general counsel to the council, submitted a draft recommendation that the council could call hearings. However, even as Clarke was telling reporters that he was seeking a consensus on whether to hold them, council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8) stepped into Clarke's office and placed a serious obstacle in the way.
Rolark, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which ordinarily would hold such hearings, said she was opposed to holding hearings until the council resumes its session Sept. 2.
An informal poll of the 13 council members by The Washington Post indicated that four of them -- Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), John Wilson (D-Ward 2), Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) -- favored summer hearings.
Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) said she would not be opposed. Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) said she would support hearings if Rolark does -- a position echoed by Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), according to their aides. John Ray (D-At Large) and William Spaulding (D-Ward 5) could not be reached.
While the council was reacting to Barry's resolution, the mayor said for the first time that monthly reports by consultant Kathryn Monaco, a New Mexico prison expert, would not be released directly but would be incorporated into reports by Fauntleroy.
Fauntleroy was hired by the city under an agreement reached in a lawsuit between the District and plaintiffs at the Central facility that staved off for at least six months the appointment of a special master to oversee the prison's operations.
City officials have blamed media attention to Monaco's June report, which warned that overcrowding at Occoquan could lead to "some major disturbance in the near future," for precipitating last week's disturbance at the prison.
City Administrator Thomas M. Downs said that Monaco's reports would not be turned over to the plaintiffs because Fauntleroy is the person responsible for monitoring the city's compliance with court orders, and Monaco is a consultant to him.
Peter J. Nickles, an attorney for inmates in the Central lawsuit, objected to the Barry administration's new posture on the Monaco reports, saying that his understanding of the agreement reached with the city is that "the reports of Monaco are available to us at the same time they are available to Judge Fauntleroy."
Nickles also charged that the city has violated the court's inmate ceiling at Lorton's Central facility as a result of the displacement of inmates by Thursday's disturbance at the Occoquan facilities.
On Sunday, Barry denied to a reporter that Central was over its population limit. However, corrections officials reported to the court yesterday that there had been more than 1,300 inmates at Central during the weekend, and that 1,314 were housed there on Monday.
Central has a population ceiling of 1,125, which was temporarily increased to 1,170 while a dormitory at Lorton's Maximum facility was being refurbished. Downs said work on that dormitory was finished Friday or Saturday and Nickles said the ceiling should have been returned to 1,125.