That monopoly appeared to end Nov. 1, when Core DC won a five-year, $60 million contract from the Bureau of Prisons to open a halfway house for 300 former prisoners at 3400 New York Ave. in Northeast, an industrial area near the Maryland line.
Days later, Hope Village filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office, saying it unfairly lost the contract because it is unwilling to accept some sex offenders.
The protest also claimed that Core DC, part of a Florida-based corrections company, won the contract without providing appropriate proof of its right to open a halfway house at the location.
“The Bureau failed in both regards — in denying Hope Village a contract because Hope Village does not accept violent sexual offenders, and in making award to a contractor that ignored the rules,” reads a redacted copy of the protest. “The protest must be sustained, and the award undone.”
In a decision dated Feb. 21, the GAO dismissed Hope Village’s arguments about sex offenders. But the GAO sided with the halfway house on its other claim, saying it couldn’t conclude the Bureau of Prisons “reasonably evaluated whether Core DC provided proof of the right to use [3400 New York Ave.] as required.”
The GAO recommended that the Bureau of Prisons reopen the bidding process or revise it. Federal agencies generally follow GAO recommendations on such requests.
A Bureau of Prisons representative said Hope Village’s contract was extended through April 30 and that the agency issued a stop-work order to Core DC.
“GAO partially sustained Hope Village’s protest,” the representative wrote in an email. “We have no additional information to share.”
Hope Village CEO Jeffrey Varone referred questions to the Bureau of Prisons.In a statement, Core DC said it was committed to being an advocate for those seeking to rebuild their lives after incarceration.
“The DC community deserves a productive, fact-driven discussion,” said Jack Brown, chairman and CEO of Core. “We will continue do our part to make this happen.”
The decision was the latest reversal in a contentious, decades-long fight over prisoners returning to the District.
Three months ago, Core DC made a deal with real estate heavyweight Douglas Development for the New York Avenue property next to an underpass, pried a $60 million contract from a facility that has housed generations of D.C. offenders and donated $10,000 to the second inaugural of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
Core also made use of Hope Village’s reputation in a February GAO filing. Activists have claimed for years that the halfway house offers substandard care for former inmates.
“The public record illustrates that Hope Village, known in the community as ‘Hopeless Village,’ has a substantial adverse record — far worse than any allegations it raises regarding Core DC,” the company wrote in a Feb. 8 letter to the GAO.
But soon after it won the five-year bid, Core DC’s deal fell apart. Neighbors railed against its plan to open a halfway house within walking distance of the National Arboreteum and it was sued by a dozen Northeast residents, ultimately losing its lease in December.
Pierre Hines, a plaintiff in the suit, said Core DC showed up to community meetings with few specifics, calling its outreach “a day late and a dollar short.”
“Core DC has stated that it intends to find a location in D.C. to operate the halfway house, but I expect those efforts to continue to be met with resistance as long as Core DC will not be transparent,” he said.
Kevin Donahue, the District’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said in a statement that the city is urging the Bureau of Prisons “to work transparently and collaboratively with District residents and returning citizens advocates in identifying suitable locations for a new halfway house.”
Emily Tatro, deputy director of the Council for Court Excellence, a nonprofit organization that advocates for improvements to the city’s criminal justice system, said activists have wanted to close Hope Village for years.
Still, she said, research shows people returning from prison are more likely to find jobs and housing through a halfway house than being released onto the street.
“We’re not taking a position on who should have the contract, but only that there must absolutely be one,” she said.