There’s not a lot of trust between state lawmakers and the Department of Corrections as they wrestle over balancing public policy and security issues.
At one of the last Prison Task Force meetings Tuesday, a Department of Corrections administrator interrupted a Corrections officer before he could finish his sentence regarding staffing levels.
“We’re not going to discuss staffing at a public meeting,” Wayne Choinski, a Corrections Department administrator, said. He said staffing levels are a matter of security and talking about them publicly could jeopardize the safety of other officers.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle took issue with Mr. Choinski’s comments and by the end of the meeting some lawmakers weren’t confident that the Corrections Department could be trusted to complete an internal review of its inmate assault classifications and external reporting.
One of the four proposed task force recommendations
require the Corrections Department to conduct an internal review of the effectiveness of its point system, external reporting, and data collection.
Mr. Choinski said the review process usually takes between three to six months to complete and when it’s completed Deputy Commissioner Brian Murphy will give the report to Commissioner Theresa Lantz. He said he doesn’t know if Lantz will share that report with the legislature.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he knows that when the legislature asks a state agency to do something for it the agency may feel it’s cumbersome or intrusive, but as elected officials “we have the right to address the concerns raised by our constituents.”
“The legislature is an equal partner with the executive branch and the judicial branch and we have every right to make these inquiries,” Kissel said.
Rep. Karen Jarmoc, D-Enfield, said it’s possible the legislature’s Program Review Committee and staff could review the data, instead of the Corrections Department. “There is value to an outside group taking a look at it,” she said after Tuesday’s meeting.
However, lawmakers have a budget deficit to deal with and Kissel said he thinks it would be best if the Corrections Department expedited the request and got the information to the legislature as soon as possible, not in three to six months.
The task force also discussed at length the use of Northern Correctional Institution. The facility located in Somers was originally used to house problem inmates who got in fights with other inmates or Correction officers.
Mr. Choinski said the facility houses approximately 160 problem inmates in addition to about 300 gang members and 10 death row inmates.
But now with the mixed population, “It’s not the deterrent it used to be,” Jarmoc said.
Mr. Choinski argued that the general prison population is safer now today without those gang members because it was the gang members that influenced or caused the violence.
Lawmakers and Choinski were unable to reconcile their differences about the use of Northern Correctional Institution.
The task force will vote on all the proposed recommendations on Tuesday, Jan. 6.