Articles Posted in Female Prisoners

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Today, Senator Chris Murphy (D.-CT) issued a press release announcing the Bureau of Prisons’ modification of its plans for FCI Danbury’s re-missioning:

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.[…]

It is expected that the entire transfer and construction process will take about 18 months to complete. BOP plans to move the female U.S. citizen inmates currently housed at the FCI to various locations around the country near their residences after their release. BOP will also move some of the current inmates with upcoming release dates to Residential Reentry Centers, or halfway houses, and others will be moved to the satellite camp. The agency has assured the senators that it is 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.

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It’s official. The BOP’s announced re-missioning of Danbury has turned into a soap opera.

In July, the BOP announced that FCI Danbury would be converted from a women’s Low to a men’s Low. Once Congress got wind of the news, a coalition of Senators voiced strong opposition to the plan, leading the BOP to halt the move. Late last week, the BOP announced it was resuming the transition. Now word comes that things are on hold again.

From the AP via the Wall Street Journal: “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, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.”

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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. Continue reading

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As discussed here, the BOP recently announced its intention to re-mission FCI Danbury from a women’s facility to a men’s low-security institution. The Hartford Courant reports that on Friday a group of senators from Connecticut (Blumenthal and Murphy), New York (Schumer and Gillibrand), Massachusetts (Warren and Markey), Vermont (Leahy and Sanders), New Hampshire (Shaheen), Maine (King) and Pennsylvania (Casey) wrote the Bureau of Prisons in an effort to prevent the move. According to the Courant, the senators contend that “the federal Corrections Institute at Danbury … is located along a densely populated urban corridor and a significant number of the inmates are from the surrounding states. Danbury is only 60 miles from Hartford, 70 miles from New York City, and 150 miles from Boston. It is easily accessible by public transportation, train, and car.” They add:

The transfer would dramatically disrupt the lives of these female inmates, many of whom are from the Northeast […] and place them out of reach of their families and loved ones.[…] We understand that the small percentage of women inmates in the federal system means that many women will be incarcerated very far from home. Given BOP’s commitment to maintaining family contact, the goal should be to have as many inmates as close as possible to their home[.]

Through its spokesman, the Bureau of Prisons responded that it has “an immediate need for low-security male bed space,” and that the closet federal prison for female low-security prisoners is in West Virginia (i.e., the Hazelton (WV) Secure Female Facility (SFF)). Reference to the need for low-security male bed space begs the question why the BOP did not simply open the Aliceville (AL) facility, where most of the Danbury women are reportedly headed, as a men’s low, especially since there is already a low-security female prison in the Southeast Region. Also, looking long term, the absence of any low-security female beds in the Northeast means that women from the region will invariably seek placement at SFF Hazelton to be as close to home as possible. This, in turn, will increase the likelihood that female offenders from the Mid-Atlantic (i.e., those closest to Hazelton) will be housed farther from home. In other words, closing FCI Danbury to women will have a lasting, ripple effect throughout the system.

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As the Danbury (CT) New Times recently reported:

Beginning in August, the Federal Bureau of Prisons will start transferring the first of about 1,150 women incarcerated at the low-security Pembroke Road facility to other institutions.[…] The change will not affect the Danbury camp, located near the prison, which houses 210 low-security female inmates, nor the 1,150 staff members who work there.[…]

[FCI spokesman Matthew] Marske said the inmates will be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis” for transfer to other institutions, including a new women’s prison scheduled to open in Alabama later this year. Twenty-eight of the 116 facilities operated by the Bureau of Prisons across the country house female inmates, but only seven, including Danbury, are all women, and about 7 percent of the approximately 219,000 inmates are female.

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The Boston Herald reportsthat 61-year-old Catherine Greig, “[c]onvicted of helping 82-year-old mobster beau James ‘Whitey’ Bulger evade capture for 16 years while on the lam together,” has arrived at FCI Waseca-Low, MN. This is notable since Ms. Greig has ties to Quincy, MA, close to where her twin sister reportedly still resides, meaning that the Bureau of Prisons selected an institution south of Minneapolis over FCI Danbury, CT, mere hours from Boston. Experience suggests that such hardships for female prisoners, for whom there are fewer institutions at which to be housed, are not uncommon. Additionally, from the Herald stories it appears that Ms. Greig was transported from Massachusetts to Minnesota by way of the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City, OK, another example of “diesel therapy.”

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Continuing with the theme of the Bureau of Prisons’ seeming disregard for prisoners’ proximity to family and loved ones, as well as the ongoing problem of overcrowding, is this New York Times editorial concerning the new women’s facility in Aliceville, Alabama.

But for many of the prisoners, the rural isolation of this expensive facility will hurt their chances of returning permanently to their families and communities after doing their time. Though it is the newest federal prison for women, Aliceville does not reflect the latest thinking about criminal justice policy for incarceration of women.
Experts have long argued that prisoners should be located within a reasonable distance of their families so they can keep connections with their children. Encouraging those connections benefits the criminal justice system by reducing the odds that a prisoner will end up back in prison after she is released. The location of the Aliceville prison works against these goals.[…]