Editorial: What's Going On In Connecticut Prisons?
While prisoner's rights issues don't usually resonate with the public, we feel obligated to comment on several recent events concerning prisoners here in Connecticut.
In Danbury, the federal correction facility has housed female prisoners. Most of these women, in excess of one thousand, are from the Northeast. Several months ago, the Bureau of Prisons announced that it would be converting the prison to an all-male prison and transferring the females to a location in Alabama. Some women had already been transferred when grassroots opposition galvanized several politicians to criticize the move, thereby convincing the bureau to reconsider this misguided decision.
Being primarily from the Northeast, these women's family support systems, including those with children, are regionally located in proximity to the prison. Visiting privileges, which encourage family contact and support, are essential for successful reintegration into the community. To move these women to Alabama makes no penological sense. We hope that the Bureau of Prisons policy folks reconsider this ill-conceived plan and return those women already transferred to Alabama.
The Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) has seen a statewide increase in its population in recent months. While this may be due to a variety of different factors, this reversal in statewide prison population trends, has caused the DOC to transfer all pretrial detainees with bonds in excess of $750,000 to Northern Correctional Institution, the super max facility in Somers. Prior to this switch in policy, the DOC had significantly reduced the population at Northern, actually closing down several unoccupied cell blocks.
Putting pretrial detainees in Northern is like transferring prisoners to Alabama. Family members from Bridgeport or Stamford or other major urban areas have no way of getting transportation for family support visits. Placing pretrial prisoners in Northern, a complex normally set aside for sentenced prisoners, such as death row inmates and inmates with behavioral and management issues, puts an enormous burden on detainees who are accused of, but not convicted of, crimes.
Criminal defense lawyers have difficulty getting to this facility because of its location near the Massachusetts border, and must endure onerous conditions in the professional visiting and interview spaces. Many may forego seeing pretrial clients under such circumstances. As a super max facility, family visits are limited and prisoners are essentially in lockdown 23 hours a day. This is not fair to pretrial detainees facing serious charges who need all the legal and family support they can get.
Urban correction centers were constructed as maximum security facilities designed to house high bond inmates awaiting trial. There is no reason they should not continue to be housed in those facilities. We urge the Acting Commissioner of Correction to rethink this strategy.
And finally, there always seem to be some correctional personnel who do everything in their power to set their own moral standards on prisoners. Recently, at York Correctional Institution, the state's women's prison, someone decided that author Wally Lamb's bestselling books, She's Come Undone, and I Know This Much Is True, should be removed from the prison library as containing inappropriate content. This action was taken in spite of the fact that for years Wally Lamb has been volunteering at the facility and tutoring a women's writing project there. The nationally acclaimed and award-winning book, I Couldn't Keep It To Myself, was a collection of writings by women prisoners attending his class. Thankfully, Michael Lawlor, the governor's Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, and quite informed about prison education issues, intervened and restored common sense in keeping those books on the prison library shelves.
Finally, Governor Dannel Malloy and his wife recently attended a Judy Dworin Performance Project at York. This multi-arts performance group works with women prisoners in workshops designed to rehabilitate and reintegrate women successfully back into the community. This supports and encourages the efforts of those individuals and groups working to redirect prisoners out of the criminal justice system and into the role of productive community citizens. Even those who will not be reentering society are benefiting from this program by having a positive impact on other inmates and their own family members. We applaud the governor for actually going inside the prison to view such an event.