DANBURY, Conn. — Female inmates transferred from Danbury’s Federal Correctional Institute will soon return home after three years of uncertainty and delays in construction on a low-security facility for women at the site.
When the facility is completed later this month, several of the original 1,000 women transferred out of the jail will be able to return to be closer to their children and families as well as have the opportunity to participate in drug and rehabilitation and job-training programs. Those who won’t return include a large portion of the women who were originally transferred that have since been released.
The Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., currently holds 111 women — 24 from the original transferred group — who have been sentenced and should be housed at Danbury. It was designed for inmates prior to sentencing and therefore lacks the proper programming and outdoor recreational facilities found in prisons. Members of the National Association of Women Judges visited the facility in June, noting that at least one inmate hadn’t seen her children and 84-year-old mother in more than a year and most inmates hadn’t seen daylight since the initial transfer from Danbury, according to a report by the judges.
The report also said the facility’s warden admitted that medical service was a problem and that several women complained about the lack of gynecology care. With a lack of outdoor recreational facilities, there was also no opportunity for outdoor exercise, and female inmates were kept in the same room 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The debate over the Federal Correctional Institution, Danbury (FCI Danbury) has been ongoing since 2013 when the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that it would turn the female prison into a mostly male prison in response to the need to provide more low-security beds for male inmates. At the time of the announcement, the Danbury prison complex consisted of two separate facilities — the low-security FCI that housed about 1,100 women and an adjacent camp that held about 150 women — both of which were often over capacity. The original plan was to fill the FCI with men and use the adjacent facility as the only facility in the Northeast for women in the federal prison system. Other female inmates would be transferred elsewhere, even as far as Aliceville, Ala., about 1,000 miles away.
The proposal raised concerns from female inmates, prison groups and senators. As such, the BOP announced a revision to the plan in November 2013 that would include converting the existing minimum-security satellite camp into a low-security facility for women as well as constructing an additional facility for women on the site. The low-security prison would, therefore, house 412 female inmates who were U.S. citizens on the Danbury site. Initially, the bureau estimated that the project would be completed in May 2015; however, the need for an environmental impact statement pushed the timeline back to May 2016 — and now October 2016.
Federal officials also expanded the project scope in April to include a second building to be used for inmate programming, health services, a new visiting area and office space, according to Danbury News Times. The total cost of the projects was about $24.6 million.
Apart from the ongoing debate over how to house female inmates, FCI Danbury has become a household name because of its celebrity inmates. It is the prison where Piper Kerman, who wrote “Orange is the New Black,” stayed during her 11-month stint in prison, and Martha Stewart also served time at the prison.