The number of inmates in the state’s prison system has increased by 6.4 percent in the past year, breaking population records and forcing the state to house thousands of inmates in gymnasiums and common areas.
Last Tuesday, there were 19,175 inmates statewide, a new all-time high.
“These are record-breaking numbers,” Christina Polce, a Department of Correction spokeswoman, told the New Haven Register. “But we can’t close the doors and say we’re full. It’s our responsibility to manage these folks and to make our staff safe. But it’s been a challenge.”
As a result of the ongoing problem, the state plans to extend its three-year contract with the Virginia Department of Corrections to house 500 Connecticut inmates.
The Department of Correction is also in the middle of a project to add 600 new high-security beds at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield. The facility itself is not expected to be completed until the year’s end, and no occupancy date has been set, Polce said.
The department also plans to add six housing units — about 720 beds — in Somers. A preliminary environmental impact study for that project will not be completed until October or November, Polce said.
Even after that expansion, 300 prisoners would be left sleeping in “temporary beds,” if the population expansion stops altogether, prison officials said.
Some lawmakers and prisoners’ rights activists have criticized state lawmakers for relying too heavily on prison construction to ease crowding. They’ve suggested that the state would save money and better address the problem of crowding by relying more on community-based programs, shortening prison stays and making a greater effort to reduce recidivism.
State Sen. Alvin Penn, a chairman of the legislature’s Public Safety Committee, said the outsourcing of prisoners to Virginia “thwarts efforts at rehabilitation by taking people away from loved ones and education and schooling.”
The vast majority of prisoners clogging the system are mentally ill or street-level drug addicts held on bail they simply cannot meet, said Penn, a Democrat from Bridgeport.