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CCA seeks reversal of D.C. prison vote

(Published November 15, 1999)


Staff Writer

Although D.C. residents recently fought off Corrections Corp. of America’s bid to build a prison in Ward 8, CCA has vowed to continue fighting.

The corporation fired the first salvo in a new crusade when attorney John Ray recently filed a petition for review with the D.C. Court of Appeals, seeking reversal of the D.C. Zoning Commission’s decision earlier this year that denied CCA’s application.

The corporation has sought to build a 1,200-bed minimum and medium-security prison to house male, youth and female inmates. The prison would be located on a 76-acre parcel in far Southwest Washington’s Oxon Cove on the Maryland state line.

In its appeal, CCA contends it was "the clear intent of Congress…to authorize a correctional facility on the subject parcel" when it legislated a land swap that transfers ownership of the federally owned Oxon Cove site to CCA in exchange for a mostly underwater parcel of CCA-owned land in Prince George’s County, Md.

CCA’s petition also alleges the zoning commission gave too much weight to the views of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8D, in which the proposed prison site is located, without outlining a specific basis for finding the ANC’s position persuasive. The company also alleges that the zoning commission paid too much attention to Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ opposition, off-the-record influence by a National Park Service representative who recused himself, and participation by zoning commission chairman Jerrily R. Kress, who concurrently was applying for a job as director of the zoning office.

Additionally, CCA’s appeal calls the proposed prison "a public necessity...economically beneficial to the surrounding area" and says "such benefits outweigh countervailing concerns" of D.C. residents.

Prison opponents denounced Ray, a former long-time member of D.C. City Council, and CCA and vowed to fight the appeal.

"He just doesn’t seem to be on the side of the people," said ANC 8D chairman Winifred Freeman, who compared the former at-large councilman to an African chief who sold his people into slavery.

"The people all over in the city and in Ward 8 clearly expressed how they feel about a correctional facility in this area," Freeman said. "We’re going to mount a campaign and tell him ‘no’ again."

ANC 8D05 Commissioner Robin Ijames of the Ward 8 Coalition agreed.

"He’s spending CCA’s money on something that he will not win," Ijames said. "He is wasting his time and ours. He held up two years of economic development (in Ward 8) just arguing with us in court."

"If I could find an attorney who was not afraid of John Ray, I’d sue him for oppressing and distressing my community," Ijames added.

But Joyce Scott of Citizens for a Progressive Ward 8 defended the appeal, calling the zoning board’s decision "purely political."

"We need a correctional rehabilitation facility right on the streets of Washington, D.C.," she said.

Congress mandated the Lorton Correctional Complex in Fairfax County, which for many years housed all of the District’s inmates, be closed by Dec. 31, 2001, and its prisoners transferred to federal or private prisons.

Eric R. Lotke, executive director of the D.C. Prisoners’ Legal Services Project, questioned the need for the proposed new prison regardless of who would build it.

"Where’s the drug treatment and where’s the intensive supervision?" Lotke said. "Jail is not the only punishment. Stop arguing about where it should go and start asking why we need it."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator