District of Columbia:

Issues Related to the Youngstown Prison Report and Lorton Closure Process

GGD-00-86: Published: Apr 7, 2000. Publicly Released: May 8, 2000.

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Laurie E. Ekstrand
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed issues related to the closing of the Lorton correctional facilities that house felon inmates from the District of Columbia and the transfer of these inmates to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), focusing on: (1) the D.C. Department of Corrections' response to the Office of the Corrections Trustee's 1999 recommendations on the Youngstown prison facility; (2) BOP's efforts to comply with the privatization requirements of the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997; and (3) any challenges concerning the closing of Lorton faced by the District of Columbia and BOP as December 31, 2001, the statutory date for closing all of Lorton, nears.

GAO noted that: (1) in its November 1998 report on problems at the Youngstown facility, the Trustee made nine recommendations to D.C. Corrections; (2) Trustee officials were generally satisfied with the actions taken by D.C. Corrections to implement the recommendations; (3) GAO found that as of March 3, 2000, D.C. Corrections had partially implemented five of the Trustee's recommendations and fully implemented the remaining four; (4) partially implemented were recommendations to modify the existing contract so as to hold Youngstown more accountable for adhering to contract provisions and to temporarily reduce the inmate population at Youngstown until there were significant additional work and educational opportunities for inmates; (5) fully implemented were recommendations dealing with activating new contract facilities, ensuring that these facilities have in place, before inmates arrive, a sound screening and classification capability, removing from Youngstown all inmates requiring separation from other inmates, and establishing a contract monitoring unit at D.C. Corrections headquarters; (6) BOP did not comply with the initial privatization requirement of the Revitalization Act that it house at least 2,000 felons in private contract facilities by December 31, 1999; (7) BOP began contracting for 2 private facilities to house these inmates 22 months in advance of the date they were needed; (8) however, delays due to environmental and legal issues, as well as security concerns partially arising from the Trustee's report on Youngstown, resulted in neither facility being operational on December 31, 1999; (9) as of that date, BOP had accepted the transfer of 1,861 D.C. sentenced felon inmates, but none of the inmates were in private facilities; (10) as of January 2000, BOP had not begun to contract for the additional private facilities needed to comply with the Revitalization Act's requirement to house at least half of D.C.'s sentenced felon population in private correctional facilities by September 30, 2003; and (11) although D.C. and BOP successfully transferred some inmates and closed some facilities in Lorton, several important challenges remain as the December 31, 2001, deadline approaches, including: (a) continued increases in both D.C. Corrections' and BOP's inmate populations; (b) concerns about the adequacy of funding to operate D.C.'s correctional facilities during the period up to December 31, 2001; (c) lack of space in BOP's facilities, particularly low-to-high security facilities to which D.C. inmates are transferred; and (d) a high rate of staff attrition within D.C. Corrections.

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