What’s Going on With Plans for a New DC Jail?

ANC 6B New Hill East Task Force holds meeting amid rumors

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DC Central Detention Facility (1901 D St. SE). Hill East residents say they are concerned that any future plans for the DC Jail could affect development of the Reservation 13 site.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B Hill East Task Force will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. October 11th at St. Coletta of Greater Washington to discuss the future of Reservation 13 and the DC Jail.

The discussion comes after neighbors expressed concern that the District had plans to build a new corrections center at 1901 D St. SE, the site of the current Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF) and Central Detention Facility (CDF). Originally built in 1872, the current jail was constructed in 1972. A 2015 report from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee deemed conditions alarming, citing deteriorating infrastructure and a lack of resources.

Kevin Donahue, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice said, “Currently, the District is not considering any proposals for the reconstruction of the DC Jail.”

However, Donahue added that during the unsolicited proposal period, the Office of Public-Private Partnerships (OP3) received four proposals for the DC Jail, but that all proposals were reviewed, declined, and returned.

“The Bowser Administration will ensure a thoughtful public engagement process is part of any plans for a replacement detention facility and Hill East redevelopment,” said Donahue.

Planning for a new District Corrections Center has been a topic of discussion for some time. Under former Mayor Vincent Gray, the District Public Safety Master Plan (completed in 2015) recommended that the city build a criminal justice center at Blue Plains, including a central detention facility and training facilities and headquarters for the Department of Corrections, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and Fire and Emergency Management Services (FEMS). Mayor Bowser deemed the plan infeasible in early 2016.

Although the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) and OP3 both say there are no plans to build a correctional facility, statements made to the press seemed to indicate differently. Earlier this year, Deputy Director and Counsel for OP3 Judah Gluckman told the Washington Business Journal that his office would issue a request for qualifications for the project in the spring, in addition to looking at unsolicited offers. The request was not issued.

Until Monday evening, a corrections center project was listed as ‘in procurement’ on the ‘Project Pipeline’ section of the OP3 website. An OP3 spokesperson said that this was an error, and it was quickly corrected.

The spokesperson reiterated that the District has no plan to rebuild the DC Jail.

A Vacuum 

Since the concept for the Blue Plains campus was discarded in 2016, there has been little public discussion about a replacement for the old DC Jail. Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) is Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. He said that no decisions had been made about rebuilding the jail, but that it was clear that the city has to build a new corrections facility at some point. The current facilities are old, he said, and do little to support rehabilitation programs for returning citizens.

Allen emphasized the importance of community engagement on this topic, saying that it was in the city’s interest to talk about planning for a new corrections center.

“When a vacuum has been created, other ideas fill that void,” he said.

Other Ideas

Jeremy Mohler is a Communications Strategist with ‘In the Public Interest’, a nonprofit that advocates for responsible contracting. He is also a participant in ReThink Justice DC, a coalition aiming to improve conditions for those in the D.C. criminal justice system and those reentering society, as well as to advance alternatives to incarceration.

He said the coalition has been asking the District questions about plans for the DC Jail in order to ensure public education around the plans and planning.

Mohler added that while it is undeniable that the city needs new facilities, information about planning has been hard to come by, and the references by OP3 to the process in the press and on their own site leave more questions than answers.

He said there are concerns around the public-private process in building a jail, including questions around transparency in the process, the incentives involved and democratic control throughout.

“No city has used a private public partnership to build a jail,” Mohler said. “This would be a first in the country.”

Part of the confusion about the process is linked to the fact that OP3 is a relatively new office, and its processes are still unfamiliar to the public. Adding to the confusion is that OP3 has two distinct processes for accepting proposals, depending on whether they are solicited or unsolicited.

Mohler said that the solicited proposal process calls for a public hearing and approval by DC Council before a Request for Proposals (RFP) can be issued, after which Council must approve of the selected proposal.

The process for unsolicited proposals, however, is less clear.

OP3 accepts unsolicited proposals annually during the months of March and September, but there is no clear or required stage at which public input is requested. Once an unsolicited proposal is deemed ‘favorable,’ the only public notice required before the proposal reaches DC Council for approval is the publication of an Executive Summary of the proposal and a Request for Alternative Proposals (RFAP) published on the OP3 website together with notice in the DC Register.

Mohler said the rules governing OP3 processes indicate that an unsolicited proposal could proceed quite far without public input. Once the final contract reaches Council, the contract will appear before various committees including the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. But it is possible for a contract procured through the unsolicited proposal proves to reach Council without input from stakeholders built into the process by which it arrived.

Mohler adds that this process makes community engagement even more important than it usually is. “The ink could be dry before we even know this is happening,” he said.

Allen said that there are advantages to private-public partnerships, which allow the city to leverage finances for the construction of the jail. He clarified that such a proposal should leverage private financing on the construction side, meaning that taxpayers would not have to foot the whole bill to build a new jail. But he said he would oppose any plan that would call for a private company to run the prison.

“I would fight tooth and nail to avoid a private-run jail,” Allen said.

Reservation 13

This conversation has caught the attention of ANC Commissioner Daniel Ridge (6B09). Ridge said he had concerns over the project and the difficulty in obtaining information about plans. He also has questions about community engagement in regard to planning.

Part of Ridge’s concern is in the effect plans for the jail site might have on the rest of the neighborhood. “If we create uncertainty around the jail site right now before we even break ground on Reservation 13, that could be why that development fails,” Ridge said.

Reservation 13 has long been a focus for development talk that has so far translated into little action. The DC Jail is located within the site, defined to the north by Independence Avenue, south by Congressional Cemetery, west by 19th Street SE and to the east by the Anacostia Waterfront Park.

Ridge noted that community engagement is complicated by the fact that Reservation 13 and the DC Jail are no longer in Ward 6 or in adjacent ANC 6B. Redistricting in 2011 put the DC Jail in Ward 7, in ANC 7F. The DC Jail buildings lie within Single Member District (SMD) 7F07, together with DC General Family Shelter, Lot 8 of the RFK Stadium Campus, and the southern half of Kingman Island.

7F07 currently lacks a Commissioner. Commissioner Tyrell M. Holcomb (7F01) said that largely due to the 30-day residency necessary to qualify as a Commissioner, ANC 7F had been unable to identify anyone to fill the position, though he said representation of that SMD, including residents of both DC General and the jail, was important and imperative for many reasons. He said that it was important that ANC 7F, 7D and 6B work together on this issue.

Holcomb said that he had not heard anything about the path to rebuilding the jail, and as far as he was aware, neither had ANC 7F. Though he agreed that the jail is in deplorable condition, Holcomb said that he first wanted to ensure that efforts were taken to ensure recidivism rates do not increase and that people are making successful returns to their communities.

“I would need to see funds and efforts committed to ensure that our young people are not getting called up to jail in the first place,” Holcomb said.

“It’s easier to rebuild a structure in our community than it is to rebuild broken individuals.”

Ridge agrees. He points out that the Eastern Branch of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington (261 17th St. SE) was built in 1937 by the Police Benevolent Club to offer youth an alternative to the street – essentially an alternative path to the prison system.

The Eastern Branch of The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington (261 17th St. SE) closed in 2007 and has been the subject of two RFP processes.

The club closed in 2007 and the District acquired the property in 2010. The site has been the subject of two RFP processes. The first was shut down in 2015 for failure to adequately address community concerns. The city recently announced that two responses had been received to the latest RFP.

Ridge, who recently toured the DC Jail facilities, said that he does not disagree about the city’s need for a new jail. But he does take exception to the overall implications for the neighborhood. “I will protest the loss of the Boys and Girls Club — an institution that kept generations of children out of trouble — while imagining a new jail,” he said.

“I guess the school to prison pipeline will at least be walkable.”

Allen agrees with Ridge, saying that plans for the DC Jail would have to take a back seat to overall development of the site. “Reservation 13 has to be a priority,” he said, adding that he hoped to have a conversation with the District to determine the barriers to development. “Plans put forth for Reservation 13 cannot be displaced by plans for the DC Jail.”

He said that a conversation about plans for the DC Jail was necessary and important.

“This conversation is important in a lot of ways, whether you’re a neighbor to the current jail or just somebody who cares about the criminal justice system,” Allen said. “You care about having the kind of conversation that’s going to get it right,” he said, noting that jails are built once every 50 or 60 years, as opposed to every five or ten.

“For some of the people reading this article this will be the only jail they see in their lifetimes,” Allen said. “So we want to get it right.”

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The ANC 6B Hill East Task Force meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday October 11th at St. Coletta of Greater Washington (1901 Independence Ave. SE). The meeting will discuss the state of permitting for the Donatelli Project on Reservation 13. DCRA and DMPED have been invited to attend, and attendance by a representative of DCRA is confirmed.

The second item on the agenda will be a discussion on the future of the DC Jail. Jeremy Mohler, of ‘In the Public Interest’, will attend.