D.C. Has No Prison; Inmates Are in 100 Federal Facilities

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In the two decades since Washington, D.C., gave up control of its prisoners and its court system, which is also run by the federal government, the city has amassed reserves totaling more than $2.4 billion. As D.C.’s wealth has increased, so have calls from advocates — including ex-offenders — to bring home the 4,700 D.C. residents incarcerated in more than 100 federal facilities, the Washington Post reports. City officials say building and operating a new prison would be too expensive. Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said “the financial burden of operating a prison could only come at the expense of other vital District government programs and services.”

The city still operates a jail that houses pre-trial offenders, residents convicted of misdemeanors and convicted felons over age 18 who are awaiting transfer to federal prison. About 85 percent of D.C. inmates serve time in federal facilities within 500 miles of Washington, says the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Short of building a new prison, local officials in the District — where ex-offenders account for 1 in 10 residents — are trying to ramp up ways to help them adjust to life after prison. Council member Robert White Jr. wants to require a database of ex-offenders returning to D.C. and provide them with information about housing, employment and applying for birth certificates and identification cards. Still, “the elephant in the room that no one is talking about is that we have no control [over the federal prisons],” said Tara Libert of Free Minds Book Club, which operates in the D.C. jail. “It costs the federal government about $133 per day to house an inmate in D.C., compared with $70 to $90 in a federal facility elsewhere.

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