- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Over the course of the next several years, more than 600,000 inmates will be released from federal and state prisons, as well as our local jails. To help meet this demand, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is in search of private companies to operate halfway houses and private companies are in search of accommodating zoning laws that allow them to set up shop. So, fellow homeowners and business leaders, beware. Take a cue from what's about to happen in the nation's capital.
Come spring, a company named Bannum Inc. is preparing to plop its privately run correctional facility, or halfway house as they are commonly called, a few blocks from The Washington Times. Bannum wants to house 150 inmates in the building, whose other neighbors include a trash-transfer station, a school-bus depot, an elementary school, a popular park and recreation center, and a senior-citizens gathering spot. And get this the neighborhood is a major hot spot for drugs, violence and prostitution.
Yes, indeedy. This is an area where a police officer was fatally shot point-blank during a drug bust gone awry. Where three persons were lined up on a hillside and executed. A family friend was shot there this fall, while waiting for traffic to clear at a stop sign. This is a neighborhood where, for as little as $5, men can pick from a "diverse" group of women to indulge their sexual pleasures. All this, and a police precinct to boot.
The Bureau of Prisons and Bannum and it appears, D.C. officials don't care. Nor do members of the Congressional Black Caucus chiefly Rep. Danny Davis, Illinois Democrat, who has introduced legislation, the Public Safety Ex-offender Self-Sufficiency Act, that would grant tax credits in each state to businesses that set up housing in your neighborhood. Reps. John Conyers and Charles Rangel, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton support his efforts. "These facilities," Mr. Davis says, "would be small units with built in psychological, substance abuse, medical, social service, re-education, skills training and job placement assistance, with continuous monitoring and support."
Now, that may sound like transitional housing to Mr. Davis & Co., but to me and my neighbors, who are fighting the Bannum plan, it sounds like a neighborhood prison.
To be sure, it's probably good public policy that ex-offenders return home after they have served their time. However, halfway houses do not house ex-offenders. Halfway houses house offenders albeit offenders who have served most of their time.
One of the things that is truly disturbing about the state of current affairs is that the Bureau of Prisons says Bannum's proposal has met its contractual obligations, and Bannum says the city's zoning laws have met its needs. Besides, Bannum says, it promises to be a good neighbor. After all, these are D.C.'s own coming home.
That sounds about right for folks in front of a mirror, trying to convince themselves that they can, indeed, have a good night's rest despite the fact that they knowingly released felons who to borrow the honorable Mr. Davis' term might never become self-sufficient. In fact, the escape rates and the trouble the Bureau of Prisons has with keeping drugs out are the stuff of which good news stories are made.
Jerry Seper, for instance, reported yesterday that the Bureau of Prisons has failed to curb drug smuggling into federal facilities, and that 50 federal inmates have died of drug overdoses since 1997. The problem? The bureau failed to adequately search staff and visitors. Tsk. Tsk.
Suffice it to say, whatever drugs halfway house inmates might be in search of, they surely will find on the streets of Chicago, New York and the nation's capital.
Moreover, when it comes to escapes from halfway houses, the District is notorious. I recall a couple of years ago, when The Washington Post reported that hundreds of inmates were escaping from halfway houses, but all D.C. officials could say was, well, uh, hmm, uh we don't know where they are.
Homeowners and businesses were happy when the city closed its halfway house a couple of blocks from The Times. The possibility that yet another mini-prison will soon open up is unsettling. But not because of what you might think. It's because on one hand we talk tough on crime, then go wobbly, somehow believing that if you do the crime you shouldn't have to do all the time.
There is good news, though. There are cities and communities that have told Bannum and other such companies to take a hike.
Stay strong. Stay tuned.

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