Re-missioning of FCI Danbury to Resume

As previously discussed, in July the Bureau of Prisons announced the re-missioning of the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution from a low-security female facility to a low-security male facility. The plan was to disburse the population from Danbury — the only female facility in the Northeast Region besides the small, minimum-security work cadre at FDC Philadelphia — across the country starting in August and finishing by year’s end. Faced with strong Congressional opposition, the transfer process was suspended.

On September 27, BOP Director Charles Samuels responded to the Congressional inquiry through a 14-page letter (here, bottom of page). Among other things, Director Samuels asserted that the opening of FCI Aliceville (AL), to which many of the Danbury prisoners are slated to be transferred, will help reduce overcrowding at female low security prisons from “48% to an estimated crowding rate of 23%.”* This is because “FCI Aliceville’s rated capacity is 1,536 inmates.”

Excluding Aliceville, the BOP operates five low-security prisons for women, which, accounting for their respective rated capacities, current populations and crowding rates, are:

                                   RC       Pop      CR

Danbury (CT)             554      901      63%

Dublin (CA)                702      1,181    68%

Hazelton (WV)           502      563      12%

Tallahassee (FL)        608      1,140   86%**

Waseca (MN)             612      968      58%

Inasmuch as Aliceville is less than 300 miles from Tallahassee, another Southeast Region female FCI, it is remains unclear why the Bureau did not choose to re-mission that Florida facility. Indeed, the transfer process would be easier (a single day’s bus trip) and consequently less expensive than the $847,000 Director Samuels estimates it will cost to transfer the Danbury population. Also, the proximity between the facilities suggests that the hardship on prisoners and their loved ones would be relatively less onerous.

Responding to concerns about the displacement of mothers from their children, Director Samuels provides data about Danbury prisoners’ release residence addresses and, in the case on non-U.S. citizens, countries of origin. Left unanswered is what percentage of female prisoners at other FCIs, in particular, Dublin, Tallahassee and Waseca, hail from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and why they are not housed at Danbury. Experience shows that the centralization of designation responsibilities in Grand Prairie has, with increasing regularity, led to the placement of prisoners far from their release residences, and support systems. Furthermore, ignored in Director Samuels’s response is the reality that female offenders from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic will continue to enter the system. If Danbury is no longer a placement option, there is a much greater chance they will be housed a substantial distance from their children and families (both in terms of actual miles and accessibility).

The unmistakable import of Director Samuels’s letter is the BOP’s intention to resume Danbury’s re-missioning. Writing on Slate yesterday Yale Law Professor Judith Resnik confirmed as much: “A few days ago, the Bureau informed the Senators that the temporary halt was ending, and women will be sent away.[…] While women will be shut out of the Northeast, 25 facilities for men will be open in the region that includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Those prisons provide beds for 18,453 prisoners.” The coalition of concerned Senators wrote Director Samuels again yesterday (here, next to bottom of page), asking that the Bureau take no action until additional questions are answered. Speaking to the Hartford Courant, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) offered: “It’s disappointing but our intention is not to give up the fight[….] We’ve got a lot of U.S. senators who share my opinion.”

A poignant arguments against Danbury’s re-mission comes from Will Portman, a Yale student and board member of the university’s Undergraduate Prison Project:

Every weekend during the school year for the past three years, I’ve spent a couple of hours tutoring inmates at Manson prison, a high-security correctional facility run by the state of Connecticut for male offenders aged 14 to 21 that’s located about 25 minutes from Yale’s campus.

The more I’ve gotten to know the inmates, the more I’ve begun to understand the importance of family relationships in the context of the criminal justice system. A formerly incarcerated individual who receives emotional and economic support from his family upon being released from prison will be far less likely to return to prison. A father who’s serving time in prison instead of raising his son could be beginning a vicious circle of multigenerational incarceration.

For the 2.3 million Americans currently behind bars, as well as the 2.7 million American children with at least one incarcerated parent, sustaining family bonds in spite of the physical separation of prison or jail is critical to their long-term wellbeing. These relationships reduce individuals’ chances of reoffending, improving public safety and reducing incarceration costs.

Inmate visitation is perhaps the most important factor in preserving family relationships over the course of a long sentence. The Minnesota Department of Corrections, in a study conducted between 2003 and 2007, found that consistent visitation by families reduced the risk of recidivism for felonies by 13 percent and for parole violations by 25 percent.

In June, Charles Samuels, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, sent a letter to all incarcerated parents in BOP custody in which he wrote, “There is no substitute for seeing your children, looking them in the eye, and letting them know you care about them … the staff in the BOP are committed to giving you opportunities to enhance your relationship with your children.”

 *As Director Samuels explains in his September 27 letter: “Crowding percentages are based on the number of inmates housed in a facility above the rated capacity. For example, if a facility has a rated capacity of 1,000 and houses 1,400 inmates, then the crowding rate is 40% (400 inmates greater than rated capacity, divided by the rated capacity). Rated capacity calculations for secure female facility assume 100 percent double bunking (for example, a secure female facility with 500 cells would have a rated capacity of 1,000).

**Tallahassee’s rated capacity above does not factor in the detention center, which has a rated capacity of 183. Inasmuch as the population report does not distinguish the detention center population from the FCI population, the FCI’s rated capacity may be 791, which means a population of 1,140 represents a crowding rate of 44%.

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