Core was supposed to take over reentry services under a five-year, $60 million contract to operate a facility for 300 men at 3400 New York Ave. NE. Its plans have come close to collapsing, faced with opposition from neighborhood activists and D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), whose ward would host the new reentry center.
McDuffie — who repeatedly wrote letters to federal officials last fall opposing the new halfway house — recently reversed course and dropped objections to Core’s proposal. But prominent District developer Douglas Jemal backed out of a tentative agreement to lease the property in December, creating uncertainty about its fate.
Hope Village also has challenged the contract award. The federal Government Accountability Office recommended in February that the Prisons Bureau revisit its decision to award the contract, but it’s unclear how long that process will take.
Advocates say ex-offenders could be sent to halfway houses outside the District if Hope Village closes without a replacement.
“It’s going to be a crisis because we’re on the verge of losing the male residential reentry services in D.C. because of political shenanigans and because of Doug Jemal,” said the Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, a minister in Northeast Washington.
Ron Moten, a longtime anti-violence activist in Southeast Washington, said he and others were shocked by Jemal’s decision to renege on the letter of intent with Core, in part because the developer has supported expanding opportunities for ex-offenders.
“This is going to be catastrophic for our community and society,” Moten said. “Because if you have people come home and they have to go to Delaware and Baltimore, they’re almost certainly going to reoffend, and they’re going to go back to prison.”
A force behind the anti-gentrification “Don’t Mute DC” movement, Moten organized a rally Thursday in support of the proposed Core halfway house featuring several go-go bands.
In a phone interview, Jemal refused to discuss the situation at 3400 New York Ave. or say whether he was reconsidering a lease for Core. He has not stated publicly why he abandoned the agreement with Core.
A separate halfway house for about 40 women, at the eastern end of the H Street Corridor in Northeast Washington, won’t be affected by decisions involving Core and Hope Village.
McDuffie — a former Justice Department civil rights attorney who has emphasized criminal justice reform during seven years on the council — wrote a letter July 26 withdrawing his objection to the proposed halfway house.
He said in an interview that Core had assuaged his concerns about its outreach to local officials and residents. He said he toured a Core facility in New York, and the group had also held meetings with Ward 5 residents.
“They’ve engaged extensively with residents throughout the District of Columbia and in Ward 5,” McDuffie said. “They’ve answered some of the hard questions about their company, their experience, some of the services they’ve previously provided.”
He said his most recent letter was not an endorsement of Core but was intended to alert federal officials that he no longer opposed the nonprofit’s contract.
McDuffie said he did not know whether Jemal was reconsidering a lease for Core at the New York Avenue location. He said he had not asked Jemal to back out of a letter of intent to lease to Core or had other discussions with Jemal before the developer decided not to move ahead with the deal.
McDuffie said Jemal did not respond to an email he sent last month notifying him that he no longer opposed the Core contract.
Last week, council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) sent his own letter to Bureau of Prisons acting director Hugh Hurwitz, saying the loss of a halfway house for men in the District would “severely harm our residents.” He added that “we cannot lose the opportunity to have the deep supports that the District’s returning citizens have been asking for and needing for so many years.”
District Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue said in a statement to The Washington Post that the administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) supports the continued presence of a halfway house in the District. Donahue stopped short of expressing support for the Core contract.
“For months, we have urged the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to work transparently and collaboratively with District residents and returning citizens advocates in identifying suitable locations for a new halfway house,” Donahue said. “The District’s public safety is better served if its returning citizens can utilize a halfway house located within the city.”
A Bureau of Prisons official declined to comment on the future of the contract or whether Hope Village — which already is operating on a six-month contract extension — would receive another extension if a new halfway house is not ready by the end of October.
Core chief executive Jack Brown said in a statement that the firm was “grateful to the residents of the District for the opportunity to share our vision for helping the formerly incarcerated become productive members of their communities. Our ongoing conversations with residents and community leaders have been encouraging.”
Hope Village representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Hope Village has won more than $125 million in federal contracts since 2006 but has long been criticized by inmates and advocates who say it offers substandard care.
In 2016, the Council for Court Excellence, a nonprofit that advocates for improvements to the city’s criminal justice system, faulted the facility for security problems and failing to help residents secure employment.
Hope Village has also been criticized for its frequent resident escapes. Last week, D.C. prosecutors announced that a convicted drug dealer who had walked away from Hope Village in December was sentenced to 15 months in prison — one of dozens of people who received felony convictions after failing to report to or escaping from the facility since 2017.
Arguments for a local halfway house and Hope Village’s checkered history did not sway the opinions of several Ward 5 residents opposed to having former inmates housed steps from the National Arboretum.
In December, a dozen of them sued the District, saying zoning regulations that could allow a halfway house on New York Avenue were “defective.” One of McDuffie’s letters challenging Core was included as an exhibit.
Though the suit was later withdrawn, Pierre Hines, one of the plaintiffs, said he was surprised to learn of McDuffie’s reversal, adding that it could affect the federal selection process and give Core an advantage.
“The verdict is still out on the key issue: whether Core or any other company can identify a suitable facility to house hundreds of men and properly staff it to deal with security issues that will undoubtedly arise,” he said. “The devil is in the details, and I look forwarding to seeing them.”