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Organization submits proposal for halfway house near Martinsburg

November 10, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Dismas Charities Inc. has proposed a halfway house near Martinsburg for the federal Bureau of Prisons, a spokesperson for the not-for-profit organization confirmed Tuesday.

The Kentucky-based organization's proposal was identified in a letter local elected officials received last month from Kristin Brown, deputy chief of community corrections and detention services for the Bureau of Prisons.

Government officials in Hagerstown, which also has been mentioned as a site, have spoken out against the halfway house. Two Hagerstown property owners have said they considered lease offers for the halfway house but decided against it.

The Bureau of Prisons wants to place a halfway house with 12 to 24 beds within 40 miles of Martinsburg.

Proposals were due Oct. 1, but the contract isn't expected to be awarded for several months, the bureau has said. A one-year contract starts May 1, 2010, with four one-year options.

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Dismas Charities spokesperson Bob Yates said Tuesday his organization proposed putting the facility in 7,000 square feet of an unfinished 18,000-square-foot warehouse building at 54 GM Access Road.

The organization's proposal came in response to a Bureau of Prisons notice in July, which requested proposals for "Residential Reentry Center (RRC) or 'halfway house' services" for the Martinsburg area, according to Brown's Oct. 6 letter to city and county elected officials.

The Martinsburg area defined in Brown's letter includes Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia; Clarke and Frederick counties in Virginia; and Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland, according to Brown's letter.

Traci L. Billingsley of the Bureau of Prisons said Tuesday in an e-mail that more information is generally not available until the contract is awarded. She would not comment specifically about the Martinsburg notice or how many other entities have submitted proposals.

Brown's letter indicated no federal RRC services were being provided currently in the Martinsburg area.

"We acknowledge that communities and neighborhoods may be concerned about a RRC operating in their midst," Brown said in the letter.

"However, we have found that RRCs are good neighbors and are able to integrate themselves into the communities where they are located."

In a protest letter to the bureau, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith wrote the city already is coping with prison-related crime. A halfway house downtown also could hurt the revitalization progress and could be seen as "dumping" prisoners from outside the area, he wrote.

The proposed use of the Martinsburg property, which is behind a strip club and a credit union along W.Va. 9, is allowable under county planning and development rules, which do not include a zoning ordinance, according to Planning Department Director Stefanie Allemong.

Yates said Dismas Charities Inc. proposed to be operational by May 1, 2010, after finalizing a transaction with Zebra Partnership LLC of Martinsburg, according to the West Virginia Secretary of State's business organization information system.

Founded in 1964, Dismas Charities promotes itself as the nation's largest provider of human services programs, specializing in community corrections.

Yates said it operates 26 programs in 11 states. The first West Virginia facility, a 48-bed center in St. Albans, W.Va., near Charleston, opened in September 2009, Yates said.

Residents of the organization's programs must adhere to very stringent rules, Yates said.

"The residents are required to clock in and clock out," said Yates, after listing a number of other requirements, including drug/alcohol screening and obtaining employment and establishing a savings account.

More information about Dismas Charities is available at www.dismas.com.

Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story

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