Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy on Thursday questioned Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the failure to begin construction of a new facility on the grounds of the federal prison in Danbury that would allow about 200 female inmates to return to Connecticut, where they had been incarcerated until last year.
Lynch said she expected ground breaking on the new facility sometime this summer but could not predict when it would be completed.
The exchange took place during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Justice Department’s budget that provided an opportunity for many members of the panel, besides Murphy, D-Conn., to question Lynch about pet policies and local justice programs.
Murphy said he had “a rather specific question from the Northeast region and Connecticut,” about construction of a new women’s detention center in Danbury.
“The initial schedule was for it to be completed this month,” Murphy said. “In the interim, all of these women are being spread out among jails in the Northeast, jails that are not equipped to handle things that these women need, especially drug counseling.”
Murphy asked Lynch for an “update on the progress of the construction of the new facility and whether we can expect construction will be completed as soon as practically possible.”
Although she was sworn in only 10 days ago, Lynch had a response.
“My understanding is that the environmental impact studies were completed quite recently and that there are additional matters,” she said. “I believe there is some pricing material being resolved this month. I am told by my team construction should begin this summer. I do not have an anticipated completion date for you.”
After the Bureau of Prisons announced in 2013 plans to move nearly 1,100 female prisoners from Federal Correctional Institution Danbury to turn the prison into a facility for male prisoners, Murphy and other Northeast lawmakers pressed the Justice Department to change the plan. They said moving the female prisoners would make it difficult for their families to visit.
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, N.Y.
This is not the first time Murphy has questioned the slow pace of construction of the new facility.
In September, he and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote Charles Samuels, the head of the Bureau of Prisons, about delays in building the new facility.
Blumenthal said the bureau told him the construction delay was a result of a lack of funding from Congress for the project.
Murphy also told Lynch he represented Newtown, where 20 first graders and six adult staff members of Sandy Hook School were gunned down by Adam Lanza.
“I understand the realities of this place, that we are not likely to get a bill expanding (FBI) background checks of gun purchasers,” he said. “The existing national background check system can be made much better if we ensure that all the data is being uploaded into it…I ask for your commitment to work with us to make sure the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) has the resources it needs to carry out existing laws.”
Lynch responded that she is “committed to that important goal of strengthening the ATF.”