New Report Exposes Extensive Delays in Danbury Women’s Prison Renovations
Date:  09-03-2014

Blumenthal, Murphy call on Bureau of Prisons to expedite transition and mitigate harm
The following press release was issued September 3, 2014.

Contact: Josh Zembik (Blumenthal) - 202-224-6452

Ben Marter (Murphy) - 202-228-9606

(Hartford, CT) - U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and nine additional U.S. senators today released a letter to the Bureau of Prisons calling on the BOP to expedite planned renovations at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury following a report by the Liman Program at Yale Law School exposing the consequences of extensive delays. The renovations, which were originally scheduled to take 18 months, are not yet underway and BOP has indicated they could take 30 months Meanwhile, women have been transferred to facilities—including jails in Philadelphia and Brooklyn— where they report challenging conditions and a lack of legal resources and rehabilitation programs, including residential drug treatment programs.

“As a Judiciary Committee member, I will vigorously press Attorney General Holder for expedited construction and commitment to services. Once again, we are reminded that justice delayed is justice denied. This inexplicable and unacceptable delay is causing real, serious harm to hundreds of women who have been transferred indefinitely to ill-equipped facilities. These hardships are felt not only by the women inmates themselves, but by their children and families, and by the communities they return to. The BOP was wise to reverse its wrongheaded decision to close the Danbury women’s prison, and they have an obligation now to honor its promise by expediting construction and recommitting to providing the vital programs and services inmates need to lead healthy and productive lives once they return home,” Blumenthal said.

"The latest delay at Danbury is totally unjustifiable. It's a no brainer that these women need to be closer to their families and the services they need to successfully reenter their communities once they've served their time. Putting the breaks on their transfer isn't fair to these women or their families and the BOP needs to explain what the hold up is,” Murphy said.

“To lose FCI Danbury? for women last fall closed off a host of opportunities for women sentenced by federal judges in the Northeast. The issue then - and again now - is how to help women from the Northeast successfully be connected to their children and families and to reenter their communities. We all need to know the BOP's timeline for doing so in compliance with national efforts to reduce over-incarceration,” said Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale Law School.

Beatrice Codianni, a former Danbury inmate and Managing Editor for Reentry Central, a respected criminal justice news source, commented that BOP’s failure to quickly renovate Danbury is part of a broader problem with the federal approach to incarceration policy. Codianni noted that if the Bureau of Prisons needs to free up resources to complete renovations on time it can dramatically reduce costs and keep families intact by pursuing alternatives to detention. Further, Codianni said, federal lawmakers should pass policies which would reduce strains on the prison system by not incarcerating nonviolent, first-time offenders who are primary caregivers of dependent children.

In the summer of 2013, the BOP announced plans to transfer out more than one thousand female inmates from Danbury; many were to be sent to a new facility in Aliceville, Alabama. Going forward, the BOP planned to provide no beds at Danbury for low-security female inmates – leaving no facility for low-security women from the Northeast to be close to home. For female inmates from the Northeast, a transfer to Aliceville would have sent them a thousand miles away from family and other community support, with no easily accessible airport, train, or other form of public transportation. Facing strong opposition from legislators, former inmates, judges and advocates, the BOP announced in November 2013 that it had reconsidered its decision. It committed to constructing a new facility for women in Danbury. At the time, the BOP projected an 18-month timeline for the work.

To prepare for the new construction at Danbury, many women from the Northeast who had been detained at Danbury were transferred to federal jails in Brooklyn and Philadelphia not equipped to accommodate long-term stays or to facilitate re-entry. Specifically, women in Brooklyn and Philadelphia reported that they no longer have access to residential drug treatment programs or to the Federal Prison Industries work program which enables inmates to participate in work opportunities and earn modest wages. The minimum-security “camp” at Danbury continues to house approximately 200 women, above its rated capacity of 146, according to the Liman report.

According to the Liman report, little to no progress has been made to date on the new facility. The BOP has admitted that work on the new facility is now expected to take 30 months, 12 months longer than was originally forecast. However, the Bureau has not released details on its construction plans, raising concerns that the timeline could slip even further.

In response to the discouraging and appalling revelations in the Liman report, Blumenthal, Murphy and nine additional U.S. senators released a letter to the BOP seeking an updated timetable for the stalled work, and further information on programming available or not available to female inmates in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, and any planned reduction in programming or services at the planned new facility in Danbury.

“This delay is inexplicable and unacceptable. Early on in the transition process, out of concern for the welfare of the female inmates, we requested information on the situation from faculty and law students in the Arthur Liman Program at Yale Law School. Their report, released today, documents the continuing harm that the transition imposes on women. While BOP delays, women are being detained in facilities that were not designed to house them on a long-term basis. Additionally, women in the Northeast may be forced to move far from their families to access essential programming, such as the Residential Drug Treatment Program, which has been proven to reduce recidivism and enhance public safety. We urge BOP to expedite the Danbury transition and to mitigate the harm caused by any delay,” the letter states. In addition to Blumenthal and Murphy, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernard Sanders (D-Vt.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.), and Angus King (D-Maine).

Read full text of letter here.