May 31, 2019
Spotlight Shifts to Local Development Company in Dispute Over DC Halfway House
Community’s questions persist as provider with blemished history continues to operate a controversial halfway house while a new provider promising change is inexplicably rebuffed.
By Rachel Holloway
Hope Village File Photo/Washington Informer
(TriceEdneyWire.com) - In November of 2018, Washington, D.C. residents, community activists and local officials got an unexpected opportunity to address a question that had long bedeviled them: how to provide former inmates the support they need to adjust to life outside of prison walls.
The stakes could not have been higher: Over 2,000 individuals return home to Washington D.C. every year, with more than half winding up back behind bars within five years of release because many returned to the same environment that drove them to crime in the first place. The population, including African Americans, face a cycle of arrest and re-arrest, tearing communities and families apart.
The unexpected opportunity came when the federal Bureau of Prisons announced it had awarded a private social services provider a contract to turn a vacant building in Ward 5 into a residential reentry center for returning citizens in the area. It was a significant decision because the lone current provider, Hope Village, had been in operation for roughly 40 years, despite a controversial record of substandard services and resident escapes, according to various media reports.
No comment as deal mysteriously falls apart
The deal, however, fell apart at the eleventh hour. The owner of the proposed site for the new reentry center abruptly pulled out of the deal to lease the social services provider, Core DC, without explanation. “I can confirm we are not moving forward,” the vice president of the development company told The Washington Post. “No further comment. Thank you.”
Now, amid new revelations of problems plaguing Hope Village, many in the community are scratching their heads, wondering why the deal was scuttled and, more specifically, why the landlord, Douglas Development, walked away from the leasing arrangement.
Adding to the mystery is the relative silence of key players in this sad saga.
Laurene MacTaggart, a media spokesman for Douglas, did not respond to an email requesting comment for why Douglas Development pulled out of the deal.
Likewise, Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chair Jacqueline Manning also did not respond to an email asking whether she encouraged or advised Douglas Development to pull away from the deal.
Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan R. McDuffie also failed to respond to an email asking why he believed CORE failed to reach out to him during the federal contracting process when our reporting indicates that CORE apparently notified McDuffie’s office during the bid process at least twice and made several attempts to meet with him after the award.
CORE vows to push forward as residents search for answers
In the absence of a clear answer, residents have come up with a slew of theories. Was Hope Village behind a campaign in the community to shunt aside the new social service provider, CORE DC? Or, even more troubling, did Hope Village’s allies in government exert pressure on Douglas Development to walk away from the leasing deal?
This is pure speculation at this point. And the answers may never be known. But this much is clear: the neighborhoods in Northeast DC and beyond are right back where they started, with no obvious solution to a vitally important criminal-justice challenge that has beset them for years.
As it now stands, Core DC has vowed to continue to press forward with its efforts to bring a new, proven model of reentry to DC. Core Services, Core DC’s parent organization, has been providing reentry services to former inmates in New York for more than ten years. With a focus on equipping residents with the tools needed to land a stable job, Core has been touting its record of helping former inmates rebuild their lives after prison.
This model of reentry eludes DC as Hope Village and some politicians apparently seek to place obstacles in Core’s path. But any efforts to foil a new local provider could be complicated by the growing national dialogue around the need for fresh solutions to criminal justice issues.
Indeed, some people are asking why what should have been a straightforward hand-off has now dragged on for months without resolution. Two weeks ago, the National Legal and Policy Center, a nonprofit public interest group, sent a letter to BOP expressing “serious concerns” about the matter.
Hope Village’s spotty record continues to raise concerns
“Hope Village’s decades-long contractual arrangement with the federal government is troubling – not to mention puzzling – given the litany of problems widely associated with the halfway home operator,” the letter read. The NLPC called on the BOP to launch a comprehensive review of the procurement process “to eliminate any and all potential political bias that might be at play.”
In a reflection of Hope Village’s attempt to embed itself politically in the community, NLPC found that D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has received $6,000 in political donations from the owners of Hope Village.
In a statement, Tom Anderson, Director of NLPC’s Government Integrity Project, said the questions about political bias derailing the procurement process were a legitimate response to the secrecy shrouding the actions of key players.
“Taxpayers have a right to know the decisions that impact the expenditure of public money,” he said in the statement. “Until the public gets those answers, a dark cloud of doubt will hang over this matter.”
Such concerns have taken on a new sense of urgency in recent weeks, particularly in the wake of a shocking report about lax security protocol at Hope Village. On May 14, NBC Washington published an investigative report detailing just how dire the situation is. Hope Village, the report found, is responsible for one in 10 of all halfway house escapes nationwide. It also noted that one of the halfway house escapees has been accused of murder.
The report has once again brought to the surface fears among community members that have been brewing for years due to a drip-drip of alarming reports involving Hope Village. In 2016, a nonprofit, nonpartisan civic organization focused on criminal justice reform sounded the alarm about the lack of review processes for residents accused of disciplinary violations. They urged the BOP not to renew Hope Village’s contract. An independent monitoring body called the Corrections Information Council also investigated conditions inside Hope Village and discovered what they deemed to be problematic practices. “Men have turned down the opportunity to be released from prison early to go to Hope Village because of the safety concerns,” CIC found.
It is this laundry list of problems that has community activists speaking up and demanding change. One longtime criminal justice expert in the community, Barrington Salmon, has gone so far as to launch a website itemizing the complaints against Hopeless Village and the years of negative news coverage focused on the halfway house. “It’s time to move on,” the site reads, “Hope Village is beyond repair.” The name of Salmon’s website, "Criminal Justice Watch", with a subheading, “Hopeless Village,” captures the deep-seated frustrations that have taken hold in the community.
The prospect of Hope Village remaining in place — even for another few months — is stoking unease among the growing chorus of voices calling for a new approach to reentry. That a much-needed solution, which seemed imminent months ago, could now be out of reach once again, is causing local advocates to wonder what is going on behind the scenes.
That could mean mounting pressure on local officials, including Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and Del. Norton, both of whom were criticized by the NLPC in the group’s letter to the BOP. And it also likely means additional questions about Douglas Development’s decision and role in this ongoing saga.