Chanting "Just say no," about 100 Rocky Hill residents, various politicians and prison guards rallied in the cold at the Capitol Wednesday to protest the state's plan to move prison inmates and institutionalized mental health patients into a nursing home in a residential Rocky Hill neighborhood.
State Rep. Anthony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, served as emcee for the rally then led the protesters up to the governor's office to deliver a petition signed by 4,000 people. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was not there at the time.
The state wants to open the privately run, 95-bed facility in a former nursing home on West Street to provide long-term, less expensive care for older and infirm inmates and institutionalized mental health patients from Connecticut Valley
The state would save an estimated $5.5 million by moving the inmates from a state facility into private care because the federal government would then pay for half the cost through Medicaid.
The facility is scheduled to open within weeks, but the town and neighbors have filed three lawsuits seeking to block it, including a complaint filed this morning by the town against the state Department of Public Health.
Neighbors near the planned nursing home said they are worried about security.
Lena Daley, a neighbor, held up a sign that included a photo of her children and told the crowd she feared that an escaped inmate could be in her backyard in minutes.
Rocky Hill Mayor Anthony LaRosa said the concern is larger than the typical "Not-in-My-Back-Yard" reaction because the state could open other similar nursing homes for inmates elsewhere in the state.
"A facility like this should never exist in any town across the state of Connecticut," LaRosa said. "Do you want to put pedophiles, mentally ill people and convicted felons 50 feet away watching kids playing in backyards?"
But Michael Lawlor, the governor's criminal justice adviser, has said that there is a specific exclusion in the agreement with the state, stating that the nursing home cannot accept dangerous inmates. The inmates who would come to the nursing home are all eligible for release, are sick and infirm and require full-fledged nursing care, Lawlor said.
The nursing home would be run by iCare Management of Manchester and staffed by a private security team, thereby excluding the state's unionized prison guards.
Some guards attended the rally and raised questions about the ability of the private security team to handle inmates. Connecticut AFL-CIO President John W. Olsen also spoke at the protest, saying he was not only concerned as a Rocky Hill resident not only about safety issues but property values.
Another Rocky Hill resident, Jesse Colucci, criticized the plan, saying it takes away limited Medicaid resources from vulnerable groups, particularly struggling families.