- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

Community groups in Ward 5 say they are optimistic that a federal court ruling will put an end to a bitter legal battle over whether offenders should be allowed to live in a privately run correctional facility in Northeast.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman on Aug. 10 ruled that Citizens for a Safe Ward 5 and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5B (ANC 5B) were legally justified in taking their case against Bannum Inc., which runs the facility, to court and city zoning officials.

Bannum sued the community groups more than two years ago, saying they used illegal tactics to stall the opening of a community corrections center on the 2200 block of Adams Place Northeast.

The company operates at least a dozen such facilities nationwide through contracts with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, court records show.

In legal filings, Bannum said the community groups filed frivolous legal challenges and engaged in a libelous campaign against the company by circulating fliers warning that Bannum planned to bring sex offenders and arsonists into the neighborhood.

Judge Friedman ruled against Bannum, saying the groups’ actions were legal. In a 23-page opinion, the judge wrote that “it was not out of the realm of possibility” that Bannum would house felons convicted of violent crimes.

“We hope this is the end of the road,” said William Shelton, chairman of the ANC 5B.

“We’re not insensitive to the fact that people need a place to go, but we don’t want them to go to a place that is not based on the needs and the will of the community,” Mr. Shelton said.

“This fight has been long and draining, and we just want some closure on the issue,” said ANC 5B Commissioner Regina James.

“When you fight something like this, you have to do it for the long haul. It’s not going to be over in a few weeks,” she said.

Bannum could not be reached for comment.

The fate of the facility was not clear yesterday.

The facility was open in the afternoon.

The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs granted Bannum a permit for the facility in December 2002.

The city’s zoning board reversed the decision in September 2003 after hearing an appeal from the ANC and Citizens for a Safe Ward 5.

The dispute has come under the scrutiny of a D.C. ethics panel.

Last year, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics issued a $4,000 fine against Bannum for violating the D.C. Campaign Finance Reform and Conflict of Interest Act of 1974.

The penalty stemmed from a finding by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

The office ruled that Bannum failed to disclose that in 2002 it paid round-trip airfare for ANC 5B Commissioner Rhonda Chappelle and ANC 5A Commissioner Joseph Bowser, who traveled to Orlando to review operations at another Bannum facility.

The two commissioners also were ordered to pay fines in the case.

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