Policy Solutions for DC Prisoners?
May 19, 2012 4:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm doing a research and policy project on DC prisoners. I'm looking for information and personal stories on what the situation is like for DC prisoners serving time in the federal system. I'm also interested in information on conditions in the former DC Prison at Lorton. I'd like to compare conditions before and after the closure of Lorton and make some recommendations for how to improve outcomes for DC inmates, both during their sentences and after release.

Basically, until the late 1990s, people convicted of crimes in DC served their time at a DC-run prison in Lorton, VA. In 1997, Lorton Prison was ordered closed by Congress, and in the ensuing years, DC's inmates were sent to Bureau of Prisons facilities all over the country. The plan closed down a reportedly terrible facility and allowed Fairfax County to regain control of some pretty valuable land. However, it also meant that DC prisoners now live hundreds or thousands of miles from home, isolated from loved ones and supportive services. I want to know more about the closure of Lorton and the effect that it has had on the prison population.

I've done the obvious internet searches and some in-depth research (e.g., reading Congressional hearing testimony and interviewing folks from the local prisoners' rights community). But I'm interested in learning more about what conditions were really like at the former Lorton Prison and what they're like now for DC prisoners serving time in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities. I'm specifically interested in any information about expert recommendations for improving the fate of DC's incarcerated citizens.

Among the issues that are of particular interest to me about the incarceration situation are family separation and visitation, reintegration after release, services available (or not available) to DC inmates under each of the two incarceration regimes, post-release situations for DC inmates. I'm also interested in information about Fairfax County's view of having Lorton Prison there and the involvement of the local community in having the prison shut down.

So, what's the best solution to dealing with DC's prisoners (assuming that simply imprisoning fewer people is off the table, at least for now)? What should I read and who should I talk to in order to get the best possible sense of what policies are helping or hurting? Are there people who are actively working now to get DC prisoners out of BOP, and if so, what do they recommend?

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.
posted by Amy Phillips to Law & Government (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The agency that deals with prisoner reintegration in DC is CSOSA. Given the things you're interested in, I would recommend trying to speak to someone at CSOSA, although I unfortunately do not know anyone there I could direct you to.

I would get in touch with the Collaborative Council and speak to someone there about your interests. Although this isn't the main purview of the collaboratives, they would certainly be able to direct you to someone who is working primarily on prisoner reintegration.

Because of DC's totally weird situation re statehood and independence, this is not only an issue for prisoners. There is a substantial problem with kids who need residential mental health treatment who are sent out of state, some as far away as Florida and even Utah. There are real problem reintegrating those kids into the community when they come back.
posted by OmieWise at 8:38 PM on May 19, 2012

Wow, that's a comprehensive topic. The Washington Post could be a good (though secondary) research source. I particularly remember an article a few (or more) years ago dealing with the families trying to stay in touch with prisoners housed around the country. The re-purposed prison as Workhouse Arts Center has an associated museum that may have good primary sources about the prison itself.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 8:40 PM on May 19, 2012

Washington Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, DC Prisoner's Project, advocates for DC prisoners.
posted by Cocodrillo at 8:51 PM on May 19, 2012

This may sound like an odd suggestion, but you might talk to people at the DC Trans Coalition (aka DCTC). Prison advocacy is a big part of what they do, and they've managed to bring about some significant policy changes. Obviously their focus is on the experiences of trans people, but that may be an interesting lens for looking at prisoner treatment and reintegration more generally. Also, they'll have the names of all the contacts you could need at CSOSA, the MPD, etc, and will probably know the best way to contact those people/what kinds of documents are publicly available.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:49 AM on May 20, 2012

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