HARTFORD, CT —One of the bonuses of Connecticut’s prison population shrinking is that the state says its mothballed facilities would help prevent the type of crisis Florida is currently experiencing with its inmate population in the wake of a hurricane.
Authorities have evacuated more than 4,100 inmates from two Florida correctional facilities badly damaged during Hurricane Michael, several days after the storm made its destructive landfall in the state.
The Florida Department of Corrections said this past weekend that 2,600 prisoners were evacuated from the Gulf Correctional Institution and its annex due to “significant structural damage” caused by Hurricane Michael. Another 305 prisoners were also evacuated from a part of Calhoun Correctional Institution for similar reasons.
This past Sunday, 959 were removed from the Bay Correctional Facility, a private institution, in Tallahassee.
“The evacuated facilities sustained significant damage to roofs and security infrastructure,” the department said in a statement. “Staff and inmates at these facilities were not injured during the storm. All inmates were secure and had access to food and drinking water through the duration of the storm.”
If and when a hurricane hits Connecticut the state prison system would be ready, officials claim.
“As you can imagine our agency is accustomed to preparing for emergencies of all types, including large scale disasters,” Karen Martucci, the Department of Corrections director of the External Affairs Division, said. “Facilities closer to the shoreline may be vulnerable in the event of a significant weather scenario.”
Bridgeport Correctional Center, New Haven Correctional Center, and York Correctional Institution are the closest facilities to the Long Island Sound. The Niantic Annex was closed in January 2016.
Martucci said because the prison population in Connecticut continues to plummet it gives the state a back-up plan if disaster strikes.
“We are fortunate enough to have recently closed an 800-bed facility in the town of Enfield that remains vacant and could be used in an extreme emergency,” she said. “We also could use available bed space at any or our 15 correctional facilities if we were forced to move populations.”
A recently released report shows that since January 2011, the prison population has dropped by 4,097 inmates – a 23 percent decrease.
Martucci said “thankfully” there has been never been a situation where Connecticut has had to evacuate any prison facilities due to weather.
She said one other option Connecticut has, if the need ever arises, is “we routinely communicate with correctional agencies in surrounding states which could be a valuable asset if needed.”
The more likely scenario, if the need ever came up, Martucci said, would be that prisoners would be moved within Connecticut.
Back in Florida, the Department of Corrections has been criticized by many for not communicating well with the family of prisoners about what was happening inside the prisons when the hurricane hit.
Media reports said that that family of prisoners were hearing from their loved ones that of particular concern was the quality of drinking water at multiple prison facilities in the path of the storm.
Martucci insisted that lack of communication wouldn’t happen in Connecticut.
“If we were forced to move large amount of offenders throughout the state, our priority would remain to ensure the safety of the public, staff and offenders,” she said. “We would communicate often to ease the anxiety of families that have a loved one incarcerated.”