It has been a decade since Congress handed over all Washington, D.C., inmates to the federal Bureau of Prisons. The main result is that prisoners are separated from their families by long distances. The closest prison housing D.C. convicts is 130 miles away, although 82 percent of them are within 500 miles of the capital. About 14 percent of 7,200 incarcerated convicts are in the privately run Rivers prison in South Carolina, where they get “abysmal medical care,” charges Phil Fornaci of the D.C. Prisoners’ Project.
Fornaci and others involved in the D.C. justice system spoke last Friday at a panel convened by the local Council for Court Excellence. Harley Lappin, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, said there is a “lot of need” to improve the process of preparing prisoners for re-entry into society. Panelists agreed there is a particular need for more and better drug treatment. Isaac Fulwood, former Washington, D.C. police chief and now a member of the U.S. Parole Commission, noted that many people don’t want former convicts returning to their neigborhoods. “Black males need to confront these problems,” said Fulwood, who is black. Fulwood said Washington, D.C., is safer than it was 10 years ago, but it may be that other factors, such as demographic changes in the community, are responsible, and not the the law that sent prisoners away. Other speakers were Avis Buchanan, director of D.C.’s Public Defender Service, Paul Quander, director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg.