Senators Say Danbury Prison Transfers On Hold
The partial government shutdown has delayed plans to begin moving inmates out of the federal women’s prison in Danbury as part of an effort to turn the facility into a minimum-security prison for men, according to Connecticut’s U.S. senators.
The Department of Justice informed their offices that the implementation of the transfers has been postponed, both senators said. A dozen inmates had already been transferred before Wednesday, Oct.2, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.
Sen. Chris Murphy said he hopes the delay will give lawmakers more time to persuade the Bureau of Prisons to change its plans. They’ve voiced concern about not having a permanent facility for female inmates in the Northeast, partly because it will move inmates far from their families.
“An 8-year-old girl is not going to be able to find her way to West Virginia to see her mother,” Murphy said.
Judith Resnik, an Arthur Liman professor of law at Yale Law School, wrote in Slate.com that “the bureau is trying to justify moving the women out of Danbury because of overcrowding in men’s prisons. The 25 facilities in the Northeast that house men are at 127 percent capacity. But when the bureau got $250 million from Congress to build the new prison in remote Aliceville, it was on the basis of the argument that women were in need of more bed space. And the bureau has continued to report that overcrowding for women is more acute than that for men.”
“Amid the shutdown of the federal government, nine senators have once again written on Friday to protest this decision. (They can’t put out press releases because of the shutdown.) In a time of serious fiscal constraint, when our federal government is shut down in pitched battles over government debt, spending almost $1 million to ship women to remote prisons is fiscally irresponsible. And the BOP’s plan is morally unconscionable,” she wrote.
The bureau announced plans in July to transfer about 1,100 female inmates from Danbury to a new federal prison in Aliceville, Ala., citing a need for more minimum-security beds for male prisoners. The process was to have begun Monday. In a September letter, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons said that while the mission change would mean some female prisoners would be moved farther from their families, a much greater number would be closer.
Of the 1,120 women inmates at Danbury’s low security facility as of July 27, prisons director Charles E. Samuels Jr. said that 673 were U.S. citizens. Of those, the bureau identified 391 from the Northeast or mid-Atlantic states, 43 of whom are due to be released before Jan. 1 and will therefore not be transferred. Samuels said the remaining 348 will be reviewed to see if they qualify to be placed in the existing prison camp at Danbury for lower risk inmates, or they’ll be transferred to a security facility in Hazelton, W. Va., or to a detention center in Philadelphia.
In a letter sent Friday, a coalition of U.S. senators from the Northeast urged Samuels to hold from transferring the inmates and requested a meeting with him to discuss their concerns. Of the approximately 19 prison facilities available to women, they pointed out that eight are in the Southeast, seven in the Southwest and two are in the Midwest. The Danbury prison and the small camp are the only facilities for women in the Northeast. There are currently 25 facilities for men in the Northeast.
Besides Murphy and Blumenthal, senators from New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire signed the letter to Samuels.
Blumenthal said he has requested a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the situation, which he called “profoundly shortsighted and misguided.”
Elizabeth Gaynes, executive director of Osborne Association, a New York-based organization that provides programs for current and former inmates and their families, said it makes sense to have a federal prison near an inmate’s family members.
“Evidence is overwhelming that people who stay connected with their families during incarceration do better when they get home,” she said, adding that children are also better able to maintain a relationship with their mothers. Of the 1,120 inmates in Danbury, Samuels said, 665 have a child under age 21.