The facility has come under fire in recent weeks for its coronavirus response, facing a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners that alleges a lack of cleaning supplies and an inability to practice social distancing.
Hope Village chief executive Jeffrey Varone said in a statement that its reentry program would be “winding down” after its federal contract expires April 30.
He said that the halfway house is Ward 8’s second-largest employer and that up to 90 employees would lose their jobs. The lawsuit forced the facility “to expend unnecessary time and attorney’s fees,” and some residents “may be returned to federal prison,” Varone said.
“Hope Village has done a yeoman’s job serving thousands of returning residents to the Washington, DC community for over 42 years, despite vigorous opposition and criticism,” he said in the statement. “It is a shame that some of our critics never had their facts right.”
He did not respond to requests for additional comment.
Hope Village spokesman Phinis Jones said he was unsure where Hope Village residents would go after April 30. The facility also has no plans to seek renewal of a D.C. contract that ends May 30, which has housed about 20 of the 200 remaining inmates at the facility.
“I have focused my attention on the 100 or so employees that are going to lose their jobs, with about 52 of them Ward 8 residents,” he said. “I’m saddened by that.”
BOP spokesman Justin Long declined to comment on Hope Village but said a solicitation for another organization to offer similar services after April 30 remains open.
In an interview Thursday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who wrote to the bureau last week to request more information about where residents returning from prison would be housed, called the situation “outrageous.” She said she has not received a response from the federal agency.
“Hope Village has a very bad reputation in D.C.,” she said. “I am not mourning its closing. I’m outraged about the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ failure to provide an alternative space.”
Court documents filed this week indicate that Hope Village “unexpectedly” informed the BOP on April 9 and the District on Tuesday that it will close April 30. The bureau said it intends to have a contract for home confinement and electronic monitoring in operation by April 26.
In filings ahead of a federal court hearing Friday, lawyers for residents suing Hope Village said “crowded and dangerous conditions persist.” The suit alleges that Hope Village has had no on-site medical services or capacity to conduct temperature checks “for at least two months,” as well as limited ability to quarantine inmates pending coronavirus test results.
Although the BOP had said it hoped to approve up to 50 men for release last week, its efforts “have fallen far short,” plaintiffs’ lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. and Latham & Watkins law firm alleged.
“Defendants continue to act deliberately indifferent to the lives, health, and safety of the nearly 200 men at Hope Village,” they said. “The court must intervene.”
D.C. officials have said “the District has engaged in appropriate oversight to address the risks posed by the pandemic” and argued that most Hope Village residents are held under BOP custody at a privately run facility, so the city is not liable.
Since the lawsuit was filed April 2, its number of residents has dropped by one-third, from 300, and the number of inmates in D.C. custody has declined from 20 to 14, all of whom are held pretrial under court orders.
Attorneys for the Federal Bureau of Prisons said that the agency has approved every home-confinement referral submitted to it through Hope Village, that the home-confinement population has doubled and that they believe most remaining residents can be similarly released.
“The BOP is making extraordinary efforts — the opposite of ‘deliberate indifference’ — to decrease the population of Hope Village by moving as many residents as possible to home confinement as expeditiously as possible,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Johnny H. Walker wrote.
Misty Thomas, executive director of the Council for Court Excellence, a nonprofit organization that has long criticized conditions at Hope Village, said the abrupt closure was “furthering its pattern of not putting the needs of its residents first.”
Some did mourn Hope Village’s closure.
Joseph Tolbert III said he lived there for six months in 2015 after serving time on federal drug conspiracy charges. He said the program helped him get a food-service job.
“Had I not had the opportunity to go to Hope Village, I don’t think I would be where I am today,” he said. “Nothing is perfect, but they gave me a place to lay my head.”
Michael Cassell, an activities director at Hope Village, said he has worked at the facility for 29 years. He planned to retire this summer, he said, but would have preferred to leave on his own terms.
“Now we don’t have a location for our returning citizens to return to,” he said.