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District inmates to be housed in N.C.

(Published March 27, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

The lengthy debate over where to house the Districtís inmates may have finally come to an end with the awarding of a contract to Wackenhut Corrections Corp. to build a prison for D.C. felons in North Carolina.

The 10-year contract worth $326.7 million, announced March 7 by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, calls for Wackenhut to house 1,200 low-security inmates at a prison the company will build and run in Winton, N.C.

Meanwhile, the federal government is moving ahead on contract negotiations with another private prison company to build another facility in Pennsylvania, despite the possibility that building and operating a private prison in the state might be illegal.

The BOP released the final environmental assessment report for the 1,000-bed facility that Cornell Corrections Inc. has proposed near Philipsburg, Pa. The stateís attorney general has already indicated that state law forbids private prisons in the state. A spokesman for BOP said the legal matters are "still under discussion" between Cornell and the stateís attorney general.

The Districtís prisoners are currently being housed at the Lorton correctional facility in Northern Virginia, at a private prison run by Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) in Youngstown, Ohio, and at various other CCA and federal installations across the country.

The District was ordered to close the Lorton complex and place its prisoners in private facilities by the National Capital Revitalization and Self Government Improvement Act of 1997. As part of the federal bailout plan for the city, the BOP will become financially responsible for housing all of the Districtís convicted felons when Lorton closes at the end of next year.

The awarding of the prison contract was embroiled in controversy last year when CCA proposed building a prison in Ward 8 on a plot of National Park Service land known as Oxon Cove. Residents of the area split on the issue of having a prison in the neighborhood as the case wound its way through the Districtís zoning bureaucracy. Ultimately, CCA lost its bid to have the land zoned for a prison and the contract went to Wackenhut.

Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, who spearheaded the fight against CCAís bid, said the contract award is overdue.

"Iím glad that the contract has been awarded, itís about time," he said. "This is a good point (for Wackenhut) to start to create a relationship with some of the (prisoner) advocates in D.C."

The Wackenhut facility will house the Districtís medium-security adult male prisoners. If Cornell receives the contract for its proposed Pennsylvania prison, the company would house the Districtís minimum-security adult male felons, as well as youth and adult female offenders.

The BOP will take public comment on the final environmental assessment for the proposed Pennsylvania prison until April 19. Copies of the report are available for viewing at the Anacostia Branch Library on Good Hope Road at 18th Street SE and at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G St. NW. The agency said it will not take any final action before April 20.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator