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Ashcroft intervenes to block halfway house site


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department announced Wednesday it has abandoned a plan to put a halfway house for adult felons next to a Washington elementary school. The decision follows complaints from District of Columbia parents groups, civic organizations, and local political leaders.

"We're delighted," said a DC official who had warned of the outcry if a child were strangled.

The decision comes just four days after Attorney General John Ashcroft made an unscheduled visit to the Adams Elementary School in the Adams Morgan section of the nation's capital. Ashcroft toured the school, talked with teachers and students, and then phoned Mayor Anthony Williams and other D.C. officials.

Ashcroft's swift intervention followed complaints the Bureau of Prisons was planning to award a contract to a non-profit group which would have operated the halfway house less than 60 feet from the school.

The facility would have housed 24 to 28 male felons paroled from the federal prison system, but would have excluded sex offenders and arsonists.

"I commend the Bureau of Prisons for being responsive to the concerns of the school and community," Ashcroft said in a written statement. "The Bureau of Prisons has assured me their practice is to consider fully community concerns in making final decisions regarding the awarding of contracts for halfway house sites. I look forward to working with them and all interested parties to find an acceptable location," Ashcroft said.

The attorney general said when he became aware of the proposed site he spoke with the Bureau of Prisons. "We moved quickly to assure the community that while we want to make sure those who have served their time have the opportunity to become constructive members of society, we also want to be sure that the security of our children and neighborhoods are not compromised," Ashcroft said.

"D.C. City Councilman Jim Graham who joined Ashcroft at the school Friday praised the decision.

"We're delighted with this ruling from the Attorney General himself," Graham told CNN. "If just one child had been strangled we'd all have been wringing our hands wondering how this could have happened," Graham said.

An elected neighborhood commissioner Alan Roth said, "The significance of this goes well beyond our neighborhood. Hopefully other communities can benefit from our experience," Roth told CNN.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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