Amid Outcry, Women Will Stay at Danbury's Federal Prison

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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FCI Danbury
FCI Danbury

Amid an outcry from judges and senators, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has decided that female prisoners will be able to stay at Danbury's Federal Correctional Institution, which is the only secure facility for women in the Northeast.

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., announced in a press release Monday that in response to concerns raised over the last two months the prisons bureau has indicated it has altered its plan to turn FCI into a facility for men.

According the press release, the bureau intends to construct a new facility for women inmates that will be located near the existing facility and maintain a satellite camp for women close by as well.

"Previously, BOP had announced that it would convert the FCI from a secure facility for women into a men’s facility. This conversion would have left one of the most populated regions of the country without a secure facility for women. While BOP still intends to turn the existing secure facility into a men’s facility, it now intends to turn the existing minimum security Satellite Camp for women located near the FCI into a low security facility for women. It will also maintain a minimum security camp facility for women near the new FCI by constructing a new building next to the FCI," the senators said.

It takes a lot for judges to weigh in publicly on matters of public policy. But the prisons bureau's plans drew the attention of federal judges across the Northeast.

Janet Hall, the new chief federal judge for Connecticut, was among 12 judges who signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that he reverse the decision to do away with the women's prison. Also signing the letter were judges from Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New York. The New York judges included Chief Judge Loretta Preska, of the Southern District of New York, which covers Manhattan, the Bronx and six counties in the Lower Hudson Valley, and Chief Judge Carol Bagley Amon of New York's Eastern District, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.

The judges said that if the plan to convert the low-security Danbury women's prison went through, most female inmates from the region would be sent to Alabama. In their letter, released Oct. 28, they said that Danbury, which is just 65 miles from New York City, was accessible to families throughout the Northeast. They suggested that many families wouldn't be able to make the 1,000-mile trip to Alabama for visits, a situation they said would be harmful to the rehabilitation of inmates and the emotional well-being of their children.

"If the planned mission change for Danbury goes forward, our ability to recommend incarceration near family members and children for male inmates will continue, but we will have no ability to do the same for female inmates," the judges wrote. The closest men's federal prison to Connecticut is in Otisville, N.Y.

"We know that offenders who have regular visitation from their families are less likely to recidivate, and many of these women have young children," the letter continued. "I think it's important that these women be given an opportunity to rehabilitate their lives, and keeping them in a facility closer to home gives them that chance."

The federal prison in Danbury has housed women for 20 years. Its current inmate population is 1,200. Of that number, 59 percent have a child under 21, according to the judges. Most women inmates would go to Aliceville, Ala., with an estimated 300 heading to facilities in West Virginia and Philadelphia.

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