Christine Stuart photo
Gov. M. Jodi Rell, pictured (Christine Stuart photo )

This lawuitfiled by 11 cramped inmates at Osborn Correctional Institute may be moot now that Gov. M. Jodi Rell enacted the crime bill passed by the lawmakers during a special session this week.

Mrs. Rell suspended parole for all violent offenders in September following the arrest of a parolee accused of carjacking. The news of that incident came three months after two parolees were charged with murder in the home invasion slayings of a Cheshire mother and her two daughters. Since the ban, the prison population across the state has increased.

At a signing ceremony Friday, Mrs. Rell said she needs to make sure a few more things are in place before she lifts the parole ban. However, she said she hopes “to have that decision over the weekend.”

Conditions in state correctional institutions have been followed closely by advocacy groups, lawyers, news organizations, and some lawmakers, who have seen the conditions firsthand through tours of the facilities. Some lawmakers have said the prisons are cramped and overcrowded, creating a dangerous situation for prison employees.

Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Michael Lawlor, a Democrat from East Haven, said the prison population has increased by 900 inmates since the incident in Cheshire. He said there are currently about 19,770 inmates incarcerated in the state’s prisons, which is 1,800 more than there were two years ago and about 70 less than it housed at its peak.

Correction Department Commissioner Theresa Lantz said in September that she can house as many inmates as is necessary, but she refused to provide a number to define the prison system’s capacity.

Rep. John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield whose district houses about 8,000 inmates in six prisons, said he was glad to hear that the ban will be lifted, because “anything we can do to ease the population is good news.”

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 4—the union that represents about two-thirds of the state’s 7,000 correction officers—said he can’t comment on the inmates’ lawsuit, but he did say the union remains “deeply concerned about the growing prison population and staffing levels.” He said in an email that the “concern about prison overcrowding is twofold—too many inmates and too few staff.”

Cathy Osten, a lieutenant and president of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001’s correctional supervisors, said Friday morning that all the state’s correctional facilities are overcrowded. She said she’s been with the department more than 18 years and it’s been overcrowded almost half of that time. She said the current population increase is the result of the governor’s parole ban.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Hartford Superior Court, inmates allege that the cells at Osborn Correctional Institute—originally built for one inmate—now house two inmates each.

“Factoring in all the stationary material in the cells, including the bed, toilet, desk, and storage locker, the available floor space which can be utilized by the inmates is approximately 27 square feet. That equates to 13 square feet per inmate,” the lawsuit says.

The inmates’ complaint further alleges ladders are provided for inmates to climb into the top bunk. Instead, they must step on the toilet to reach the top bunk. The lawsuit also says that staffing at Osborn is “grossly inadequate,” with an officer-to-inmate ratio of 1 to 84 in most facilities, and as high as 1 to 120 inmates.

But based on Mrs. Rell’s comments Friday, relief appears to be on the way.