Enfield Correction Institution will close on Oct. 1 if the plan Department of Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone submitted Friday is approved by the Office of Policy and Management.
The prison will follow Bergin Correctional Institution which is set to close on July 15.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy required the commissioners of all state agencies to submit a savings plan by Friday to help the administration come up with $1.6 billion to close the budget gap left by the failed concession package. The plans, submitted to Malloy’s Budget Director Benjamin Barnes today, will contain a total of somewhere around 6,500 layoffs and reductions in state programs and services.
The DOC’s plan recommends the closure of the Enfield medium security facility, which opened in 1960 and currently houses 721 inmates. Those inmates will be moved to available beds at other facilities, according to a Correction Department spokesman.
“This is not something we’re excited about. This will not be the greatest thing for the department,” Arnone said after a Bond Commission meeting in Hartford.
He stressed that the plan must be accepted by Barnes and said that if it is accepted the department probably won’t begin moving forward with it until August.
On Friday Barnes said the commissioners’ savings plans were still coming in and OPM had not had a chance to review Arnone’s yet. But he didn’t anticipate any disagreement.
“I have a lot of confidence in Commissioner Arnone,” he said.
At a press conference following the Bond Commission meeting, Malloy said that commissioners have been in contact with Barnes.
“I don’t envision a lot of disagreement,” he said.
The steep cuts forced by the failed labor agreement are hitting the DOC especially hard. The governor recommended eliminating 1,170 employees, which amounts to a 18 percent reduction in the department’s personnel.
Enfield’s Warden Anne Cournoyer said she began notifying her staff of the plan at roll calls Thursday and continued Friday morning. She said the staff has been great in handling it but they’re also a little skeptical.
“There have been so many rumors about Enfield closing that I think at this point they’ll believe it when they see it,” she said.
Many there are still hopeful that the labor unions and the Malloy administration will come to some sort of an agreement and dodge the hefty layoffs, she said. The majority of her staff voted for the original agreement and would have liked to see it ratified, she said.
If not it might be a tough change for some.
“Some of my staff have worked their entire career at Enfield so it will be a difficult transition,” she said.
The DOC’s lost jobs will come from correctional officers, counselors and maintenance workers and they will “slow the department down in areas we hoped to move forward in,” Arnone said.
But correctional officers are making more dire predictions. Correctional Officer John Boyle, who will retire from Bergin in August, said Thursday the state’s facilities are already tight and the closing of more prisons are only going to make things worse.
Some inmates in the state are already sleeping on the floors of facility gymnasiums and more will soon find themselves there, he said. Inmates will only take such conditions for so long and when enough of them find themselves sleeping on gym floors feet-to-nose, things will go south, he said.
“They will find a way to self-correct the situation, we’ve seen it before. When that happens our jobs usually involve following the smoke,” he said.
Arnone said there are indeed inmates sleeping on the floors of state facilities but he said those conditions are limited to pre-trial jails. Connecticut’s corrections system is rare in that pre-trail inmates are sometimes housed in state facilities.
He said that over his 38 years in the department that has always been the case. The reason being the pre-trial inmate population fluctuates wildly by nature, he said. Many people can come in suddenly as a result of a law enforcement sweep or a bunch could post bond and leave, he said. There can be inmates sleeping on the floor of a facility one night and free beds the next, he said.
Even with two prisons scheduled for closure, Arnone dismissed concerns that convicted inmates will find themselves bunking on the floor.
“We’re going to be tight but we’ll be using everything we have,” he said.
Boyle said the state is attempting to make space in prisons by expediting programs to get inmates discharged.
These are tough times, Boyle conceded, adding that he would be the first to admit there are plenty of people locked up who probably shouldn’t be. But he said there are other prisoners even in level two facilities who he would give up half a month’s pay to ensure they weren’t released early.
Some of the expedited releases have been legitimate and the reflection of the department’s hard working counseling staff, he said. But he described a lot of what’s going on inside the state’s corrections system as hokey and potentially dangerous. Counselors are feeling pressured to sign off on the release of inmates they wouldn’t otherwise okay, he said.
“Those tremors they’ve been feeling over in Japan, they have nothing to do with the shifting of tectonic plates. It’s the reverberation of the rubber stamp they’ve been bouncing off the desk to get guys out the door,” he said.
But Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice issues, pointed out that the DOC’s discharge rates have remained relatively steady.
“What’s really driving the declining prison population is there are fewer people coming in the door,” he said.
Arnone said there has been absolutely no pressure put on the counseling staff to discharge inmates faster. Even programs like the recently approved earned risk reduction credits do not go into effect until October, he said.
The only thing the department has done is authorize overtime for counselors to help clear up some program waiting lists, he said.
“So if that’s what they’re talking about then yup. But that’s what we should be doing,” he said.