Bureau of Prisons Asked to Investigate D.C.’s Scandal-Plagued Hope Village

NLPC sent the following letter today to Hugh J. Hurwitz, Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP):

We write to express serious concerns about the procurement process for a federally funded halfway house — or reentry center — in Washington D.C. Based on a review of news reports about the lone, federally contracted halfway house operator in the city, along with other publicly available information suggesting the process may be tainted by political interference, we urge the Bureau of Prisons to conduct a thorough review of this matter.

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. Often referred to as “Hopeless Village” by local community members and returning citizens who have stayed there, the Southeast Washington halfway house has a long history of substandard care and a lack of appropriate security protocol.

Just this week, an investigation by Washington, D.C. television station NBC4 found that one in 10 of all halfway house escapes nationwide can be traced to Hope Village. The report pointed out that in several cases, inmates who escaped Hope Village were later implicated in crimes. In two cases, escapees were accused of committing murder after escaping Hope Village, according to the report’s findings.

The troubles long predate the news outlet’s investigative report.

In 2013, for example, an investigation by the Washington Post found that dozens of former Hope Village residents said they did not receive basic job-training or mental-health services, the very services Hope Village is federally funded to provide.

In 2016, the Council for Court Excellence (CCE), a nonprofit civic organization focused on criminal justice reform, asked the BOP not to renew Hope Village’s contract. CCE recommended that the BOP find a new halfway house capable of “offering high-quality services.”

The same year, the independent monitoring agency Corrections Information Council (CIC) sent a memo to the BOP detailing a litany of problems inside the facility. CIC found that Hope Village had actually undercut the ability of its residents to engage in a proper job search. For example, Hope Village prohibited Internet access at its facility, prevented residents from meeting with organizations providing an offer of assistance, and failed to provide assistance for necessary transportation.

In 2017, the U.S. Marshals Service requested the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office with “the investigation, prosecution, and disposition of an increased number of escape cases,” in a request that underscores the urgency around this matter.

All in all, these problems raise questions about whether Hope Village is serving its clients humanely and effectively, behaving like a good neighbor in the larger Washington, D.C. community, and ensuring that federal tax dollars are not being wasted. Yet despite the torrent of alarming reports, Hope Village has held onto its contract, receiving more than $125 million in federal contracts since 2006. In fact, the BOP recently extended Hope Village’s contract through October 31, according to published reports.

A review of publicly available information suggests that politics may play a role in what is effectively Hope Village’s monopoly over reentry services in the city.

We are troubled by what appears to be the involvement of two powerful local officials, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Council Member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), in the procurement process and/or advocacy on behalf of Hope Village.

Records show that D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, in photo, has received a total of $6,000 from Jeffrey and Trina Varone, who are primary owners of Hope Village. The BOP must take into consideration whether or not they should deem what Del. Norton says worthy given her connection to Hope Village’s owners, who split their time between houses in Maryland, Rehoboth Beach, and South Florida.

The National Legal and Policy Center is calling on the BOP to immediately launch a review of this matter to eliminate any and all potential political bias that might be at play and take the appropriate steps to ensure that D.C.’s returning citizens have access to secure housing and critical reentry services.

/s/ Tom Anderson, Director of the Government Integrity Project.