oversight

Women in Prison: Transition of District of Columbia Female Felons to the Federal Bureau of Prisons

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-07-21.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office                                                               General Government Division
Washington, D.C. 20548




                 B-283078

                 July 21, 1999

                 The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton
                 House of Representatives

                 Subject: Women in Prison: Transition of District of Columbia Female Felons to the Federal
                 Bureau of Prisons

                 Dear Ms. Norton:

                 As you requested, this letter addresses two questions about the transition of female felony
                 offenders from the District of Columbia (D.C.) Department of Corrections to the federal
                 Bureau of Prisons (BOP), a transition that was required by the National Capital Revitalization
                                                                 1
                 and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997:

               • What is the status of the transition (e.g., how many D.C. female felony offenders are in BOP’s
                 custody and in which BOP facilities)?
               • What types of parenting, educational, and job-training programs does BOP offer to D.C.
                                                                                  2


                 female offenders in BOP facilities?

                 Results in Brief
                 As of June 1999, 218 D.C. female felony offenders were in BOP’s custody, of which 143 (or 66
                 percent) had been designated to the BOP prison in Danbury, Connecticut—approximately
                 300 miles from Washington, D.C. According to BOP officials, to help address distance-from-
                 home and related parenting and family issues, parenting programs are offered at all BOP
                 facilities. BOP also offers female and male inmates a variety of educational and job-training
                 programs. For example, BOP’s Danbury facility offers a course on long-distance parenting, a
                 high school credential program, and 12 job-training programs (e.g., business management and
                 dental assistant) that can lead to certification or accreditation.



                 1
                  The National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 was enacted as Title XI of the Balanced
                 Budget Act of 1997, P.L. 105-33. The act requires the transition of both female and male D.C. felony offenders to BOP.
                 2
                  Job-training programs include occupational or vocational programs (e.g., business management and culinary arts) and
                 apprenticeship programs (e.g., carpentry and dental assistant).




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  In the future, BOP plans to house all D.C. female felony offenders, including those already
  housed in BOP facilities, in a private correctional facility to be built in Philipsburg,
  Pennsylvania—approximately 210 miles from Washington, D.C. According to BOP officials,
  the contractor will be required to provide parenting, educational, job-training, and other
  programs and services that address female-specific needs. At the time of our review, the
  contractor was developing specific information on its proposed policies, programs, and
  services. The private facility is scheduled to open in 2000.

  Background
  For several decades, the D.C. Department of Corrections has functioned as both a local and
  state-like system. As a typical municipal system, it detains pretrial, presentence, and other
  inmates for the local Superior Court; probation and parole violators; and those misdemeanor
  or felony offenders sentenced to relatively short terms. For the most part, these inmates have
  been held at two secure high-rise urban facilities, the D.C. Central Detention Facility (often
  referred to as the D.C. Jail) and the adjacent Correctional Treatment Facility. Some of these
  offenders have also been housed in community facilities operated or contracted for by the
  D.C. Department of Corrections. The department has also performed the state-like function of
  housing convicted felons. These inmates primarily have been held in a 3,000-acre prison
  complex located on federally owned land in Lorton, Virginia, about 20 miles south of
  Washington, D.C.

  In 1997, Congress and the administration completed a review of the organization and
  management of the District of Columbia’s public agencies. In August 1997, Congress passed
  the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997. Among
  other things, the act requires the following:

• By October 1, 2001, BOP must designate all D.C. felons to a penal or correctional facility
  operated or contracted for by BOP after sentencing.
• By December 31, 2001, the Lorton Correctional Complex must be closed and felony inmates
  transferred to a penal or correctional facility operated or contracted for by BOP.
• By December 31, 1999, BOP must house at least 2,000 D.C. sentenced felons in private
  contract facilities.

  The act does not contain gender-specific provisions or requirements. For example, it does not
  specifically require that BOP house any female inmates in private contract facilities.

  In September 1997, the D.C. Department of Corrections requested that BOP assume custody
  of all sentenced female felons then-currently housed in D.C. facilities. The department also
  requested that the acceptance be ongoing to allow all future female D.C. felons to be
  designated to BOP institutions immediately after sentencing. In October 1997, BOP agreed to
  take all of the female felony offenders and agreed to work with the D.C. Department of
  Corrections to develop procedures for accepting direct commitments from the courts. Based
  upon subsequent discussions, BOP and the D.C. Department of Corrections agreed to not
  transfer female inmates who had imminent release or parole dates, were pregnant, or had
  pending court actions or open cases. BOP and the department also agreed to wait until
  January 1998 to begin transitioning D.C. female felony offenders to BOP facilities. In January


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B-283078


1998, the portion of the Lorton Complex that housed D.C. female felony inmates was closed
and these inmates were transferred to BOP facilities or other D.C. Department of Corrections
facilities (i.e., the D.C. Jail or Correctional Treatment Facility). Also, in January 1998, BOP
began accepting D.C. female-inmate direct commitments from the courts.

Most D.C. Female Felons Were Assigned to BOP’s Connecticut
Facility
To curtail hardships the transfers and direct designations may impose on inmates, BOP and
the D.C. Department of Corrections agreed to attempt to place D.C. female felony inmates in
federal facilities located within 500 miles of the inmates’ legal residences. According to BOP,
this agreement is consistent with BOP’s philosophy of keeping inmates as near home as
possible.

As of June 1999, BOP had accepted 290 sentenced D.C. female felons, of which 218 remained
                                           3
in BOP’s custody and 72 had been released. As table 1 shows, 143 (or 66 percent) of the 218
female offenders in BOP’s custody as of June 1999 were assigned to a BOP facility in
                                                                              4
Danbury, Connecticut—approximately 300 miles from the District of Columbia.

Table 1: Number of D.C. Female Inmates in BOP Custody and the Receiving BOP Facility (as of June
1999)
Location of receiving                                                  Miles from D.C.     Number of
                                                                                      a
BOP facility                          BOP facility name                (approximate)          inmates
California                Federal Correctional Institution Dublin                2,840              1
Connecticut               Federal Correctional Institution Danbury                 300            143
Florida                   Federal Correctional Institution Tallahassee             890             11
Texas                     Federal Medical Center Carswell                        1,400             15
Washington, D.C.          Washington Halfway House for Women-                        0              8
                          Fairviewb
West Virginia             Federal Prison Camp Alderson                             280             40
Total                                                                                             218
a
Internet-based roadmap software was used to calculate highway mileage from D.C.
b
The Washington Halfway House for Women-Fairview is a private facility contracted for by BOP.
Source: BOP.
Twenty-seven of the 218 D.C. female felons were assigned to BOP facilities more than 500
miles from the District of Columbia—i.e., to BOP facilities in California (1 inmate), Florida
(11 inmates), and Texas (15 inmates). The D.C. Department of Corrections concurred with
these assignments because they were based on medical, security, or safety concerns.

According to BOP officials, as of January 1998, BOP had received all transfers from D.C.
facilities that BOP and the D.C. Department of Corrections initially agreed should be

3
  According to BOP data, of the 218 D.C. female felons in BOP custody, 127 were transferred from D.C. facilities, 85 were initial
designations (i.e., direct commitments from the courts), and 6 were in BOP’s custody prior to the time the National Capital
Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 required the transition of D.C. felony inmates to BOP.
4
  Federal Correctional Institution Danbury is a low-security facility housing approximately 1,000 female inmates. Adjacent to this
facility is a minimum-security facility housing approximately 200 female offenders.




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B-283078


transferred. The officials noted that since January 1998, BOP has and will continue to receive
additional transfers from D.C. facilities (e.g., inmates who no longer have pending court
                        5
actions or open cases) and direct commitments from the D.C. courts.

As of June 1999, the D.C. Department of Corrections retained custody of 263 female
          6
offenders. According to D.C. Department of Corrections officials, in spite of the transfer of
D.C. female felony offenders to BOP, there has not been a significant decrease in the D.C.
female inmate population due to an increase in both pretrial and misdemeanant
commitments. The officials noted that this is consistent with the overall inmate population
growth at the D.C. Department of Corrections.

BOP Offers a Variety of Parenting, Educational, and Job-
Training Programs
In May 1999, BOP officials responsible for the transition of D.C. offenders to BOP visited
BOP’s Danbury facility and conducted interviews with correctional staff and D.C. female
inmates. BOP officials told us that the inmates were primarily concerned about their distance
from home and related parenting and family issues. According to BOP, parenting programs
are offered at all BOP prisons to help inmates maintain and strengthen relationships with
their children, learn to handle responsibility, and become more prepared to rejoin their
families after release. Parenting programs’ components include (1) mother/child visitation
activities and (2) parenting skills classes. For example, the children’s visitation center at
BOP’s Danbury facility—located adjacent to the general visitation area— has child-size
furniture, toys, games, and books. According to Danbury officials, children’s center activities
include reading, storytelling, board games, puppetry, arts and crafts, and birthday and holiday
celebrations.

According to Danbury officials, parenting skills classes are offered in both English and
Spanish and include anger management, how to interpret children’s behavior, how to
administer positive discipline, and how to “parent” from a distance. The long-distance
parenting course addresses issues such as understanding the role of a parent, the effects of
incarceration on the family and child, answering children’s questions about incarceration, and
steps toward fostering a healthy family. Other classes are intended to teach inmate-parents
how to communicate with their children through letters, pictures, and telephone calls.
Danbury officials noted that inmates are able to demonstrate and apply what they learn when
visiting with their children in the children’s visitation center.

BOP said it recognizes the importance of education as both an opportunity for inmates to
improve their knowledge and skills and as a correctional management tool that encourages

5
 According to BOP officials, as of June 1999, 32 D.C. female felony inmates were scheduled to be transferred from D.C. facilities
to BOP during the summer of 1999.
6
 The D.C. Department of Corrections generates monthly audit reports on the D.C. female inmate population. According to the
June 1999 report, of the 263 female offenders in D.C. Department of Corrections’ custody, 64 were in the referral process to BOP,
131 had pending court actions, 40 had pending parole actions, 14 were misdemeanants, 8 had mandatory release dates before
December 1999, and 6 were D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Act offenders.




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B-283078


inmates to use their time in a constructive manner. In May 1991, BOP raised its mandatory
literacy standard to a high school diploma or a General Educational Development credential.
According to BOP, with limited exceptions, an inmate who does not have a diploma or
credential must participate in a literacy program for a minimum of 240 instructional hours or
until a credential is earned. Inmates involved in work programs must have a high school
diploma or credential to receive job pay promotions above the entry level. Federal law
mandates that non-English proficient inmates participate in an English as a second language
program until they function at the equivalent of the eighth-grade level in competency skills. In
addition, BOP’s Danbury facility offers continuing education classes (e.g., foreign languages,
bookkeeping, history, and speed reading), advanced occupational (college level) courses, and
release readiness programs.

BOP also offers female inmates a variety of job-training programs that are intended to
enhance job skills during incarceration and increase the employability of offenders upon
release. For example, according to BOP program documentation, BOP’s Danbury facility
offers five occupational training programs (i.e., business management, business education
training, building trades, culinary arts, and horticulture) and seven apprenticeship programs
(i.e., carpenter, cook, dental assistant, electrician, painter, stationary engineer, and tool
machine set-up operator). All of these occupational and apprenticeship programs can lead to
certification or accreditation.

Contract Facility for D.C. Female Inmates Scheduled to Open in
2000
As previously mentioned, the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government
Improvement Act of 1997 requires BOP to house at least 2,000 D.C.-sentenced felons in
private contract facilities by December 31, 1999. BOP has chosen to house all D.C. female
felony offenders in a private contract facility.
                                                                    7
In April 1999, BOP awarded a performance-based contract to Cornell Corrections,
Incorporated, for the management and operation of a contractor-owned and contractor-
operated secure correctional institution. The facility will be located in Philipsburg,
Pennsylvania, which is about 210 miles from Washington, D.C. The facility is to house 300
D.C. female felony offenders of various security levels. Separate areas are to house 350
                                                                                           8
minimum-security D.C. male offenders and 350 D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Act male offenders.

The contract requires that inmates be offered (1) a comprehensive parenting education
program to promote and build family relationships; (2) educational programs, including
literacy programs, General Educational Development testing, and an English as a second
language program; and (3) job-training programs. The contract also contains requirements

7
 The contract has both fixed-price and award-fee components. The amount of the award fee will be based on BOP’s assessment
of the contractor’s performance.
8
 A separate facility for 1,200 low-security male D.C. sentenced felons is planned, but a contract had not been awarded at the time
of our review.




Page 5                                                                                GAO/GGD-99-144R D.C. Female Felons
  B-283078


  applicable only to the female-inmate population. Among other things, the contractor is
  required to

• ensure that female offenders have access to programs and services that meet their different
  needs, prepare them to function in an institution environment, and prepare them to assimilate
  back into the community;
• address female health care issues in health care plans and procedures; and
• refer pregnant inmates for participation in the Mothers and Infants Together program as
                                                        9
  appropriate and in accordance with BOP procedures.

  According to the contractor’s proposal, among other things,

• vocational training programs will include food service, laundry service, general construction,
  landscaping, and general maintenance;
• the contractor will provide a Washington, D.C.-based video visitation system;
• sexual assault and abuse programs will include topics such as recognizing behaviors that are
  inappropriate, harassing, or assaulting and how to seek protection; privacy rights; medical
  psychological programs for victims of abuse; and how to confidentially report sensitive issues
  to institution staff and BOP; and
• life skills programs will include anger management, problem solving, interpersonal
  relationships, parenting classes, personal financial management, employment readiness, and
  interviewing skills.

  At the time of our review, Cornell Corrections, Incorporated, was developing specific
  information on its proposed policies, programs, and services. Regarding staff training and
  staff development, BOP plans to make its self-study course entitled “Working With Women
  Offenders” available to the contractor.

  In June 1999, BOP issued Cornell Corrections, Incorporated, a stop work order on the
  Philipsburg contract pending BOP’s efforts to reevaluate environmental documentation used
  to support the contract award. According to BOP officials, it will take at least 45 days to
  perform the reevaluation. Although a specific date for opening the new private facility had
  not been determined at the time of our review, BOP officials noted that the contractor should
  begin accepting inmates and assuming full responsibility for the operation, maintenance, and
  security of the institution during calendar year 2000. Further, according to BOP officials, all
  D.C. female felony offenders housed in BOP facilities will be transferred to the new contract
  facility, although exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis (e.g., inmates with special
  medical or programming needs).




  9
   The Mothers and Infants Together program is an alternative residential program for pregnant inmates. Generally, low-risk
  female inmates who qualify and agree to participate in the program are placed in a community-based facility 2 months before
  expected delivery and remain there for 3 months after delivery to promote maternal bonding and parenting skills.




  Page 6                                                                              GAO/GGD-99-144R D.C. Female Felons
B-283078



Scope and Methodology
To meet our objectives, we contacted officials in (1) BOP’s Community Corrections and
Detention Division and BOP’s Correctional Programs Division and (2) the D.C. Department of
Corrections and the D.C. Office of the Corporation Counsel (Special Litigation Division). We
reviewed statistics provided to us by BOP on the status of D.C. female felony inmates
transitioned to BOP but did not independently verify the number of inmates transitioned or at
the receiving BOP facilities. We also reviewed the applicable federal law requiring the
transition and documents that describe the programs and services offered at BOP facilities.
While visiting the Federal Correctional Institution Danbury, we interviewed correctional
officials and observed female inmates participating in various parenting, educational, and job-
training programs; however, we did not assess the quality of the programs. We also reviewed
BOP’s April 1999 contract for the management and operation of the contractor-owned and
contractor-operated secure correctional institution in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. We
conducted our work from December 1998 to June 1999 in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards.

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation
On July 1, 1999, we provided a draft of this letter for review and comment to BOP and the
D.C. Department of Corrections. In its written comments dated July 15, 1999, BOP noted that
it has issued a stop work order on the Philipsburg contract pending BOP’s efforts to
reevaluate environmental documentation used to support the contract award. BOP also
provided technical comments and clarifications. This information has been incorporated in
this report where appropriate.

In its written comments dated July 9, 1999, the D.C. Department of Corrections provided
technical comments and clarifications, which have been incorporated in this letter where
appropriate.

                                  -   -   -   -   -

We are sending copies of this letter to The Honorable Janet Reno, Attorney General; The
Honorable Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, Director, BOP; Mr. Odie Washington, Director, D.C.
Department of Corrections; and other interested parties. Copies will also be made available to
others upon request.




Page 7                                                         GAO/GGD-99-144R D.C. Female Felons
B-283078


Please contact me on (202) 512-8777 if you or your staff have any questions about this letter.
Key contributors to this letter were Dan Burton, Eric Erdman, and Mary Hall.

Sincerely yours,




Norman J. Rabkin
Director, Administration of Justice Issues




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