Senators Urge BOP to Start Danbury Project

DANBURY, Conn. — The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is under public scrutiny after delaying the construction of a new prison for women in Danbury. U.S. senators from the Northeast urged the BOP in a letter to get the project back on schedule so women in the Danbury prison complex can be close to their children, as well as have the opportunity to participate in drug rehabilitation and job training programs.

Last summer, the bureau said it would convert the current Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Danbury to house almost 1,000 men as a 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.

The proposal raised concerns from women prisoners, 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. At the time, a press release was issued that said the entire transfer and construction process would take 18 months and that the BOP was making “every effort to keep the U.S. citizen inmates in the Northeast and maintain the same level of programming available by the end of the process.”

To prepare for construction, the bureau transferred about 100 women from the low-security facility to other facilities in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. However, as these women sit in more restrictive federal jails that don’t offer services like drug treatment, construction has yet to break ground 10 months after the announcement.

The Yale Law School’s Arthur Liman Public Interest Program released a report earlier this month that said the construction could now take until 2017 to complete, affecting the welfare of the women who have been transferred to the federal jails. In a press conference call earlier this month, Sen. Richard Blumenthal called the delay in renovating the Danbury facility inexcusable and inexplicable.

Blumenthal was joined by Sen. Chris Murphy; Beatrice Codianni, a former Danbury inmate and now prisoner-rights activist; and Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, which is based on her experience as an inmate at Danbury.

Kerman said that federal jails are holding facilities, and not intended for long-term sentences. “It might be hard for folks to understand who are outside of the system, but the impacts of the physical restraints, the forced idleness, and the sensory deprivation that take place in a jail facility, is simply not appropriate for a long-term stay,” she added.

Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also signed a letter to the Bureau of Prisons asking for an updated timetable for the stalled project.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons says the agency is reviewing the letter and will respond as soon as possible, according to WSHU Public Radio Group.