Washington – U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are again at loggerheads with the federal Bureau of Prisons over the fates of about 200 female prisoners who were transferred out of state while serving sentences at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury.
The Connecticut senators, joined by some of their Senate colleagues from the Northeast, have written Charles Samuels, the head of the bureau, about delays in building a new facility on the prison grounds. That delay has forced the female prisoners to sit out the construction in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, N.Y,. jails.
The senators also object to the interruption of a drug rehabilitation program some of the female prisoners were involved in when they were in the Danbury prison. Completion of the program would cut some of their sentences.
“We are frustrated by the lack of communication regarding both of these critical issues and deeply concerned by the impact they may have on the female inmates and their ability to successfully reenter our communities,” the senators wrote Samuels.
Blumenthal and Murphy won a partial victory over the Bureau of Prisons last fall when the agency agreed to halt the transfer of some of the more than 1,100 female prisoners in Danbury to other locations, mainly to a federal facility in Aliceville, Ala.
The Bureau of Prisons needed the Danbury facility, which at that point only held female prisoners, to hold male prisoners. In a compromise, the bureau agreed to keep female prisoners who were U.S. citizens and sentenced in the Northeast in Danbury at a new facility that the bureau estimated would take 18 months to build.
In the meantime, these prisoners were transferred to jails in Philadelphia and Brooklyn. But Blumenthal and Murphy say construction has not begun on the new facility and could take 30 months.
“Once again, we are reminded that justice delayed is justice denied,” Blumenthal said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “This inexplicable and unacceptable delay is causing real, serious harm to hundreds of women who have been transferred indefinitely to ill-equipped facilities.”
Blumenthal said the Bureau of Prisons had told him the construction delay was a result of a lack of funding from Congress for the project. But Blumenthal said there is money in the bureau budget that could be reallocated to build the facility, which he estimated would cost no more than $10 million.
The Bureau of Prisons had no immediate response to the senators’ letter or allegations.
Piper Kerman, a former Danbury prisoner and author of “Orange is the New Black,” a hit Netflix series, joined Blumenthal and Murphy on the conference call Wednesday. “The women who are in these facilities right now are in a crisis situation,” she said.
Besides difficulties in receiving visits from their children and other family members and the interruption of drug rehabilitation programs, the prisoners suffer under physical constraints, forced idleness and sensory deprivation, she said.
Judith Resnik, an Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale University, was also on the conference call. She and some of her students wrote a report on the Bureau of Prison’s plans for Danbury and determined “the current treatment of women incarcerated in the Northeast is at odds with federal justice polity priorities” that stress the reintegration of inmates into society as quickly as possible.