Students, advocacy organizations and faith groups convened downtown on Tuesday morning to decry the transfer of inmates from the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, which the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) is in the process of transitioning from a women’s prison to a men’s prison.
Activists called the “emergency press conference” in reaction to an anonymous inside tip that alleged 30 inmates had been transferred early.
The transition, which would turn the only federal women’s prison in the Northeast into the 26th federal men’s prison will move many of the 1,120 inmates at Danbury a thousand miles south to a newly constructed women’s correctional facility in Aliceville, Alabama. BOP Director Charles Samuels cited overcrowding as the main reason for the transfer in a public letter. No BOP officials were available for comment.
“This shortsighted move will cause severe hardship, harm and pain for the young children of these women, and will hinder and restrict the family bonds and relationships we know are critical to rehabilitation,” Senator Blumenthal said in a statement on Tuesday. In the release, he said the Department of Justice assured him that no prisoners would be moved until the federal government reopened. The 348 inmates with addresses in the Northeast will be sent to prisons in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, according to a BOP release. About a hundred other inmates have already been moved to other facilities including drug rehabilitation institutions.
As it stands, over 400 non-citizens housed at the prison will be sent to various institutions across the country, including Alabama, Minnesota and California without consideration of their places of residence.
The demonstration, organized by several grassroots faith organizations including the Yale Divinity School’s Seminarians for a Democratic Society, attracted a small crowd of about 25 people.
“I think they’re going to be forced to changed their minds if we can keep our legislators pushing,” said Barbara Fair, who organized the demonstration and co-founded the grassroots advocacy organization My Brother’s Keeper.
At the very least, she said, they hope to see more public oversight on deciding where inmates will be transferred. Fair said that this was just the “first of many steps.”
In August, Connecticut Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal — along with nine other regional senators — sent a letter to the BOP questioning their decision to “place [the inmates] out of reach of their families and loved ones,” and requesting more information on the matter. The letter that the Senators sent in August managed to delay the transfer for a couple months, but BOP Director Samuels sent a letter dated Sept. 27 insisting that the move is “indeed in the best interest of all inmates in the BOP.”
The senators fired back another letter on Oct. 4 suggesting that the BOP’s measures to relocate the 348 Northeastern inmates to Philadelphia and West Virginia was not sustainable and that sending non-citizens across the country was a “troubling” approach.
The Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, whose advocacy chair Nia Holston ‘15 spoke at the demonstration, has been working on a letter-writing campaign to push legislators to oppose the transfer.
BOP Director Charles Samuels said in a public letter an effort would be made to keep the 348 inmates with addresses in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in the area. The senators and activists who opposed the move have often referenced the effect further separation would have on the inmates’ children. Fifty-nine percent of the women in Danbury have children under 21, the Connecticut Mirror reported on Oct. 4, 2013.
“When you separate mothers from their children, it causes deep trauma,” Fair said.
Beatrice Codianni, a former Danbury inmate and the Program Director of Reentry Central, a criminal justice advocacy website, said that maintaining contact with their families and communities offers inmates a positive path toward reentry into society.
“When you talk to people who are incarcerated, you empathize with the importance of [community and family] relationships to starting over,” said Jessica Garland ’15, a member of the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project.
In the long run, inmates’ proximity to their families is good for communities with high crime rates, Codianni said.
“Keeping families close to their loved ones in prison reduces recidivism and increases public safety,” she said. “It’s a ripple effect.”
Many activists interviewed argue that a better solution to prison overcrowding would be to take non-violent offenders out of the BOP entirely and pursue alternative methods of confinement, such as house arrest or rehabilitation.
Fair said this should spur a larger debate on whether or not excessively punitive punishments for certain offenses like drug possession are beneficial to society.
“There are ways to handle social problems other than locking people away for all these years and tearing apart these families,” she said.
There are eight federal women’s prisons in the Southeast, seven in the Southwest and two in the Midwest.