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With the state trying to save money in any way it can, and with a declining prison population, closing down correctional institutions has been targeted as a way to rein in budgets.
With closings having already taken place, and more on the horizon, the question is where will displaced prisoners end up?
The answer to that question is of particular interest to the Town of Cheshire, considering the Cheshire Correction Institution not only is home to an entire facility currently not being used, but also a large portion of the main penitentiary, which could house hundreds of new inmates.
In 2010, under then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the Webster Correctional Institution in Cheshire was shut down and put into mothball status.
The closing resulted in annual savings of $3.4 million and the 200 inmates were transferred to other facilities. According to the Department of Correction website, Webster CI already saw two of its four housing units shut down prior to officially being closed in January 2010. The website does, however, make clear that the facility is ready for reuse should the need arise.
Now, under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Gates Correctional Institution in Niantic will be closed down next week. The closure is expected to save the state approximately $12.3 million annually.
"Given our state’s fiscal concerns, our agency has worked diligently to find efficiencies and consolidations, while at the same time ensuring the safety and security of our citizens," explained Department of Correction Commissioner Leo C. Arnone.
Gates CI, which opened in 1981, is considered a Level 2 (out of 5) facility and holds around 700 offenders. According to the DOC, these inmates will be dispersed to other prisons throughout the state. There are also 270 employees at Gates, but there will be no layoffs, the DOC said. Instead, those employees will find work in other facilities around the area.
Before Malloy received word that $1.6 billion in concessions were coming from the labor unions, there was a "Plan B" budget, which included a plan to shut down the Bergin Correctional Institution in Storrs. The Level 2 facility houses over 900 inmates and more than 200 staff members, many of whom would have been laid off.
While that plan has been put on hold, the chance remains that Bergin CI will eventually close its doors.
At Cheshire Correctional Institution, there is a 400 bed wing, commonly referred to as the North Block, that is currently unused. With so many prisoners soon to require a new home, some worry that Cheshire's facility will undoubtedly be considered a logical landing spot.
However, DOC officials have said in the past that the North Block would only be used in an emergency situation. Brian Garnett, director of External Affairs for the Department of Correction said on Monday that is still the case.
"At this point in time, there are no plans to utilize the North Block," Garnett stated. "If there ever were, we would reach out to the community in advance to explain why."
Still, the town is monitoring the issue closely, as more inmates in the town's prisons could create problems, such as more flow at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. The state pays the Town for its usage, as meters monitor the flow from the prisons. That number is being watched closely as the Town prepares for a multi-million dollar upgrade in the coming years.
Town Manager Michael Milone said he has been working with the state on a successor agreement that would outline what the DOC would pay for effluent flow leaving the state facilities. For instance, the state is allowed X capacity and they were to go over, there would be a surcharge or penalty, Milone said. The prisons use about 20 percent capacity at the treatment plant, which could change with an influx of new inmates. However, Milone has not heard if more inmates would be assigned to Cheshire CI as a result of prison closures.
The DOC explained that the prison closures are possible because of a declining inmate population. The current inmate population is around 17,650 offenders, which is a 10-year low. The prison population reached an all-time high of 19,894 in February 2008 after Rell revoked parole, following the Cheshire home invasion that resulted in the murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, Hayley and Michaela. The two men — Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes — charged with the crimes were out on parole at the time. Hayes was found guilty last year and sentenced to death, while Komisarjevsky will stand trial beginning this fall.
Garnett explained that, within the state budget, another prison will be closed by the end of the year. While initially Bergin CI was chosen as part of the "Plan B" budget, it is not necessarily the one to close now.
Garnett said "no decision" has been made as to what facility might close, but "another closure is anticipated towards the end of the year."