For much of the past two years, two corrections companies dueling over a federal contract have sown confusion over where District men returning from prison will live.
The decision marks the next step in community reentry after Hope Village — which long held a monopoly over the lucrative business of housing inmates coming home — ended its 42-year run this year in Southeast. While city and community leaders say a similar facility is needed in the District, some oppose the latest plans, saying the Benning Road location isn’t suited to host hundreds of men coming from penal institutions.
Federal documents show Core DC was awarded the contract Thursday. In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons said the new facility will open Oct. 1 at 3701 Benning Rd. NE.
The location, between D.C. Route 295 and Minnesota Avenue, is home to a large, white, boarded-up building — formerly the D.C. Eagle, thought to be the District’s longest continuously operating gay bar before it closed this year. The site is largely industrial, located behind a shopping center parking lot yards from train tracks.
D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), who represents the area, has long opposed a halfway house at the location, saying it would hurt economic development targeted for the corridor.
He said the decision is another example of the federal government imposing its will on the nation’s capital.
“This federal government, led by Donald Trump, has no interest in the well-being of the District or Ward 7 residents,” Gray said in a statement. “Our returning citizens should return to a place with a more humane, family like setting to help make their transition as successful as possible. It is the model that I question, not the welcoming back of our formerly incarcerated citizens.”
The office of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Core chief executive Jack Brown said the company — which is based in New York but also has a D.C. office — is committed to offering a fresh start for inmates coming home.
“We take very seriously the responsibility of providing returning citizens the critical support they need to successfully transition back home with dignity,” he said in a statement.
Tyrell M. Holcomb, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission where the halfway house will be located, said the community was “very displeased” with the chosen site. He said Core had not consulted with neighbors or responded to inquiries about the contract, which he said would bring the halfway house to an area already in need of mental health and drug addiction services.
“We’ve been ignored,” he said. “We as a community in Ward 7 refuse to have something shoved in our face.”
Holcomb said he understands the need to make space for people returning home from prison, but after touring the facility, he worried the building’s size would hinder its mission. He said residents were prepared to sue to try to stop the project — a tactic used in 2018, when 12 residents sued over a previous location that Core proposed in Ward 5.
While community members weren’t happy with the location, prisoner advocates welcomed the development. Since Hope Village closed, inmates released by the Bureau of Prisons have been sent to Baltimore and other locations that make it difficult for them to reestablish themselves in their hometown, advocates say.
Misty Thomas, executive director of the nonprofit Council for Court Excellence, which supports improvements to the city’s criminal justice system, said the Benning Road facility will fill a void left by Hope Village’s departure.
“For far too long, D.C.’s returning citizens did not have a safe or supportive place to transition back into the community; Hope Village’s closure in the middle of a pandemic compounded stress and instability for our men returning home from incarceration,” she said in a statement. “I’m confident that returning citizens and advocates will welcome the opportunity.”
While the facility will be Core’s largest footprint in the District, it won’t be its first. The company runs a D.C. homeless shelter and in April was awarded a $439,000 contract, formerly held by Hope Village, to monitor prisoners on home confinement through Oct. 25. The company’s new $64 million contract includes supervision for up to 150 people on home confinement, the Bureau of Prisons said.
The contract marks the conclusion of Core’s two-year legal battle with Hope Village, which had won more than $125 million in federal contracts since 2006.
In 2018, Core tried to open a halfway house on an industrial stretch of New York Avenue NE in Ward 5, in a former charter school owned by powerhouse D.C. developer Douglas Development. That attempt failed after community opposition and Douglas’s decision to back out of the deal.
Following the neighborhood outcry, Hope Village filed a formal protest with the federal government saying that Core had an unrealistic plan that might result in housing violent sex offenders near children. Although Hope Village eventually won back its contract, it folded last month in the face of a class-action suit filed by inmates who alleged that the facility inadequately responded to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hope Village’s departure marks a seismic shift for men returning home from prisons.
The halfway house had long been the target of advocates. In 2013, the Corrections Information Council, a District agency that monitors conditions at the D.C. jail and other facilities, criticized its lack of job programming, transportation subsidies and grievance procedures.
The coronavirus pandemic only amplified those complaints, with Hope Village residents alleging that the facility had inadequate cleaning supplies and did not allow for appropriate social distancing.
Hope Village spokesman Phinis Jones said that the facility “is out of that business” and that the property off Suitland Parkway will be sold.
“There are no bad feelings,” he said. “I’ve got nothing for you. I did the best with what I had and for a long period of time.”
Jones said that when he started working with Hope Village, there were nine halfway houses for men in the District. From 2006 until last month, Hope Village was the only one left. And until the Core facility opens later this year, there are none.
“The community did not want it,” he said. “It’s gone.”