The coronavirus pandemic has undone that victory in a matter of weeks.
A federal lawsuit this month alleging insufficient coronavirus precautions prompted Hope Village to abandon attempts to renew its contract. Its owners cited legal fees and the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ refusal to grant a long-term extension of its contract, which expires Thursday.
Most of Hope Village’s nearly 200 residents dispersed to homes across Washington or other halfway houses in the region. Their departure closes a 42-year chapter for a facility long pilloried by inmate advocates that also served as the first stop for generations of men coming home from incarceration.
Despite the closure, there have been no reports of positive coronavirus cases within Hope Village. Two men died in April for reasons the Federal Bureau of Prisons said were not related to the novel coronavirus. In court documents, advocates allege that one of the men died in quarantine and that testing was limited. Results from the medical examiner are pending.
Donte Herring, 20, arrived at Hope Village in late January from a federal prison in Pennsylvania after serving 30 months on weapons charges. Though Herring was supposed to stay at Hope Village until August, he moved in Monday with his family in Southeast Washington.
“It feels great to be out,” he said. “I’m glad to be headed home.”
He was critical of the D.C. facility, saying it did not have masks, gloves or other materials needed to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s just not sanitary,” he said. “It’s not a good place to live. . . . You can’t really practice social distancing while you’re in BOP custody and still in an institution.”
Jeffrey Varone, Hope Village’s longtime CEO — whose mother-in-law founded the facility in 1978 — did not respond to a request for comment.
Hope Village spokesman Phinis Jones said about 15 prisoners housed under a separate D.C. contract that expires in May remain at the halfway house, while “six or seven” Bureau of Prisons inmates are scheduled to be taken to home confinement Thursday. He said some buildings were being boarded up but wouldn’t comment on the future of the property.
“It will go to a good use,” he said.
Bureau of Prisons spokesman Justin Long said 151 Hope Village inmates were transferred to home confinement under a contract with Core DC — the corrections company that temporarily won the contract held by Hope Village in 2018. Public records show it was awarded a $439,000 contract for home confinement from April 24 through Oct. 25.
What will happen to District men returning from prison after late October isn’t clear. Core tried to open a 300-bed halfway house in Northeast Washington two years ago, only to lose its lease after public outcry and a legal challenge from Hope Village. In January, D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) wrote to the Bureau of Prisons to protest another location he said Core proposed on Benning Road.
In a statement, Core CEO Jack Brown said the company is monitoring the former Hope Village residents.
“Through this program, which allows returning citizens to be transferred to home confinement while also ensuring appropriate oversight, Core DC is committed to serving the community and working in close partnership with local leaders to meet the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic,” the statement said.
The Bureau of Prisons said 31 inmates, most of whom had no place to go, couldn’t be placed in home confinement. The agency said those inmates were transferred to other facilities overseen by its Baltimore office.
The bureau’s website lists one residential reentry center in Baltimore: a facility run by the nonprofit Volunteers of America that offers housing and health care to vulnerable populations.
In a letter Monday to the Bureau of Prisons, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) wrote agency director Michael Carvajal to say “housing D.C. residents outside the District is completely unacceptable.” She continued: “I ask that you not send these D.C. residents to Baltimore, away from their homes, and, instead work with the District to find a housing solution here in D.C.”
In an interview, Norton said District inmates — who, unlike state prisoners, are housed in federal facilities sometimes several hundred miles from their homes — have often been isolated from their communities.
“I cannot help but note that, with all that has been tried, only contact with family and friends appears to have any affect on recidivism,” she said. “One of the reasons I’m resisting sending these people farther away is that it does defeat the purpose of having a halfway house in D.C. in the first place.”
In a news conference Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) also urged that inmates be kept close to home.
“Our ask is they be located in the District or as close to the District as possible,” she said.
Kevin Donahue, D.C. deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said in a letter to the federal prisons agency that the District has “several housing options immediately available, including some that would be at no cost to the Bureau of Prisons.”
Because Hope Village does not accept certain sex offenders, some District residents have long been placed at the halfway house east of downtown Baltimore. They say reentering society in an unfamiliar city brings challenges they wouldn’t face in Washington.
Karl Gaddy, 50, pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual abuse and was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2009. Unable to live at Hope Village, he was released in August to Volunteers of America and said the institution didn’t cater to people from the District.
A D.C. native, Gaddy came from prison with no identification, no connections to Baltimore and no job or public benefits. He couldn’t afford to travel to the District — a $16 round-trip train ride.
Gaddy said Volunteers of America is “nice and everything,” but the organization’s ability to help him straighten out his life was limited.
“I knew I needed help,” he said. “D.C. is the best place for returning citizens to get some type of help.”
Volunteers of America did not return a request for comment.
Margot Kirkland, program director at Voices for a Second Chance, a D.C. nonprofit that has worked with former prisoners housed at Volunteers of America, said some clients who seek identification cards and public benefits in Maryland before returning to the District “have to start the process all over again and many times have no funds to do so.”
“If they’re unfamiliar with the community, they don’t have a lot of support,” she said.
Hope Village’s abrupt emptying out comes after a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners who alleged a lack of cleaning supplies and an inability to practice social distancing. In a statement last week after Hope Village announced it would close, Varone said the facility had “done a yeoman’s job serving thousands of returning residents.”
“It is a shame that some of our critics never had their facts right,” he said.
Jonathan M. Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, which represents Hope Village residents in the suit, called the exodus from the halfway house “a very good result.” He said the facility was at “tremendous” risk of an outbreak like that which has killed nine patients and a staff member at the city-owned St. Elizabeths Hospital. At the D.C. jail, the virus killed one prisoner and sickened dozens.
“We dodged a bullet here,” Smith said. “We feel lucky that we were able to take action that led to protecting men confined there, staff and community from another outbreak in a correctional facility.”
Fenit Nirrapil contributed to this report.