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New halfway house for 300 former inmates set to open next year in D.C.

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A private company has won a five-year, $60 million federal contract to open a halfway house for 300 former inmates in Northeast Washington.

The contract follows contentious battles in recent years over where such a facility could open in the District and leaves in question the future of Hope Village, the city’s only existing halfway house for men.

Core DC was awarded the contract Nov. 1 by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, according to federal public records. A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons said the halfway house will open March 1 in an existing building at 3400 New York Ave. NE in an industrial area near the Maryland line cut off from neighborhoods by Route 50 and railroad tracks.

Kevin Donahue, the District’s deputy mayor for public safety, said in a statement that city officials learned of the facility this week, adding that “while we would have welcomed the opportunity to participate in their planning process, we encourage the bureau to swiftly begin community and stakeholder engagement.”

Representatives of Core DC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who represents the area where the halfway house will open, criticized “the lack of community engagement from BOP regarding the facility,” calling it “unacceptable.”

“I am requesting that residents have an opportunity to thoroughly review the contract,” he said in a statement.

Recent proposals to bring a halfway house to the city were met with disapproval from residents and community leaders. In 2016, Core DC proposed two halfway-house locations in the District, but neither advanced amid opposition.

At that time, McDuffie fought a proposed halfway house on Edgewood Street NE, citing “its proximity to several schools and busi­nesses as well as the number of proposed beds.” Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) opposed putting a halfway house on Potomac Avenue SE, citing its proximity to condominium projects and a “tavern/nightclub that serves the area’s LGBT community.”

“It has been difficult to locate a halfway house in the District of Columbia,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). “One of the things they may have taken into account is this halfway house is not near apartments and schools.”

Norton sent a letter Thursday to Florida-based Correctional Management & Communications Group, Core DC’s parent company, asking how the halfway house will help residents readjust to life outside prison when it is “not near a Metrorail station and appears to be a mile from the nearest bus stop.”

She said she wasn’t consulted about the contract — what she called “a flaw in the process.”

“Once it’s a fait accompli, I’m not sure what anyone can do about it,” she said. “You and I don’t know much about it yet. That’s a problem.”

According to the Bureau of Prisons, Hope Village’s existing contract was extended through Feb. 28 — the day before the new halfway house would open — and the Core DC contract “will replace the current contract with Hope Village.” The Bureau of Prisons did not discuss the future of Hope Village, which opened in 1978 off Suitland Parkway SE.

‘It does not have to be this way’: Report slams services for former inmates returning to D.C.

The facility’s downsizing or closure would be a significant shift for the D.C. corrections system. Hope Village, which enjoyed a monopoly in the District, has housed generations of former inmates — and has been the target of complaints from activists concerned about the rights of those returning from prison.

The last time a competitor won a similar contract was 2003 — and that location closed in 2006, leaving Hope Village the only player in a lucrative market. Since then, the facility has been awarded more than $125 million in federal contracts, according to federal records.

Days before the announcement of the Core DC contract, Hope Village chief executive Jeffrey Varone praised his company, saying it has helped numerous former inmates return to a life outside of prison.

“I think we do a really good job,” he said. “That’s why we’ve outlasted everybody. A lot of our staff have been here 30 and 40 years . . . We really are dedicated to trying to help these returning citizens make a positive impact on their life.”

Varone didn’t respond to requests for comment about Hope Village’s contract or Core DC’s entry into the market.

Advocates and former Hope Village residents say substandard care has been overlooked for years, adding that men leaving prison have nowhere else to go. Some who have stayed at Hope Village say its shortcomings are unmistakable.

“Hope Village is the perfect dumping ground,” said James Bethea, 63, who said he had done about nine stints at the halfway house since 1981, last leaving in 2016.

To some, D.C. halfway house is more like ‘Hopeless Village’

Bethea said he’s been in the criminal-justice system since he was 12, serving time for crimes that include armed robbery and burglary. A lifelong addict who’s been clean for about five months, Bethea said unsanitary conditions, a lack of employment services and open drug use made rehabilitation difficult.

“To fight off addiction from Hope Village, you need to be super, super strong,” he said.

Hope Village was pilloried by watchdogs in 2013, when the Corrections Information Council, a District agency that inspects and monitors conditions at the D.C. jail and other facilities, faulted its lack of job programming, transportation subsidies and grievance procedures. Varone declined to comment on specific allegations against the facility.

Last year, the Council for Court Excellence, a nonprofit organization that advocates for improvements to the city’s criminal-justice system, urged the Bureau of Prisons not to renew Hope Village’s contract, citing insufficient services for residents and violent crime in the area.

According to D.C. police, 29 homicides, 186 robberies and 276 assaults with a dangerous weapon have occurred within 1,000 feet of Hope Village since 1978. Andre Wright, commander of the 7th Police District, which includes Hope Village, said police don’t consider the halfway house a public safety risk.

Emily Tatro, deputy director of the Council for Court Excellence, said activists have called for the closure of Hope Village for years. In a statement, she said she’s hopeful that residents of the Core DC facility will find improved living situations.

“While we and the public at large have received virtually no information about this new halfway house provider, the Council for Court Excellence is hopeful that they will offer client-
centered services that uphold the residents’ dignity and offer the support they need to successfully return home,” she said.

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