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Allenís prison opposition questioned

Constituents worry over Ward 8 repís failure to back council resolution

(Published March 8, 1999)


Staff Writer

Ward 8 residents who have fought for nearly a year to stop a 1,200-bed private prison planned for their neighborhood were bolstered by a D.C. City Council resolution against the prison introduced March 2. But many also were disturbed that the resolution didnít come from their own council member, whom they have urged for months to draft similar legislation.

In fact, Councilwoman Sandra Allen, D-Ward 8, said she isnít sure she will support the measure introduced by Councilman Phil Mendelson, D-At large, and co-sponsored by Councilman Kevin Chavous, D-Ward 7. She said the proposed legislation is "too restrictive" in calling for a park at the site.

"My vision does not necessarily say that we need to preserve the trees and the parks ó we might come up with another use for it," she said. "Weíll have to see how it comes out of committee."

Although Allen originally supported council legislation enabling the prison, she has since stated publicly several times that she would support the Ward 8 residents and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners who donít want the prison.

In October, she pledged during a live radio broadcast to "do everything in my power to lobby against it."

Now some prison opponents have begun to doubt her word.

"She was supposed to be standing with us on this," said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robin Ijames, who lives in the apartment complex closest to the proposed site. "I want an explanation."

"If she is not co-sponsoring this resolution, sheís legislatively missing in action," said Philip Pannell, a leading Ward 8 activist and ward coordinator for Mayor Anthony Williamís election campaign. "If Sandy Allen has changed her position, it would only be intellectually honest to let that be known."

Winifred Freeman, chairman of ANC 8D, in which the proposed prison would lie, called Allenís behavior "disturbing."

"If she had some concerns about the details of the resolution, it would only take an amendment to adjust it for her support," Freeman said. "I donít know why she would not think of that."

Freeman, who has lived in the neighborhood for many years, led more than 75 people in a march against the prison Feb. 27, from Leckie Elementary School in far Southwest to the proposed prison site at Oxon Cove.

Allen stopped by the rally preparations briefly, as marchers were recycling her old campaign posters into homemade anti-prison signs, but stayed only about 20 minutes. After declining an invitation to address the marchers, she said she "had sugar" (she has diabetes) and needed to go home. Allen did go on camera that day to reiterate her support for prison opponents.

"The community still feels it does not want a prison there and I was there to support that fact," she said later, recalling the rally.

Supporters of the prison, planned by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, say the prison would provide jobs for local residents and keep inmates close to their families. Some are angry that D.C. residents outside of Ward 8 have become involved in the debate.

"We donít want outsiders coming into this community and telling us what we want," said Joyce Scott, a Ward 8 resident and a leading proponent of what she and others prefer to call a correctional and rehabilitation facility.

But most prison opponents welcomed the support of citywide organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Statehood Party and the Green Party, which were well represented at the Feb. 27 rally.

"The prison is not just going to house people from Ward 8, so the whole city should be concerned, black and white," said Sandra Seegars, another Ward 8 activist. But Seegars also acknowledged that the anti-prison movement would likely be criticized in the predominantly black ward for working with and accepting help from whites.

Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, a leader of the prison opposition and resident of Ward 8, said he circulated drafts of the resolution to various council members after trying unsuccessfully for months to get a meeting with Allen to discuss the issue.

Mendelson emphasized city-wide concerns about the proposed prison.

"The design, siting and need for this facility are not being dictated by the District," he said. "Rather, the proposal is purely private."

Lack of public participation in the process was also a problem, he said.

"The catalyst for CCAís efforts to build at Oxon Cove is congressional action which was obtained without public participation," he said. "An amendment to an appropriations act mandated a land swap with the National Park Service, and this was done without public notice, without public comment and without apparent consultation with local elected officials.

"Most of the residents of Ward 8, and throughout the city, and even in neighboring Prince Georgeís County, feel this project is being forced upon them and I have to agree."

The controversy over CCAís troubled facility housing D.C. inmates in Youngstown, Ohio, hasnít helped the Ward 8 proposal, he added.

In the meantime, Mendelson said he will work on revising the wording of the legislation and will lobby other members of council to support it.

In Ward 8, Allen cancelled a meeting scheduled for March 8 with prison opponents and fielded calls from concerned residents on both sides of the issue. Ward 8 sources said both sides are beginning to be annoyed with what they see as Allenís refusal to take a firm stand.

"She may have trouble getting re-elected," Seegars predicted. "We want a council member who makes strong decisions."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator