If Not Virginia, and Not in My Back Yard 

If Not Virginia, and Not in My Back Yard 
Posted by FoM on April 16, 2000 at 16:12:47 PT
Where To Put Inmates? 
Source: Boston Globe
Makers and enforcers of Connecticut laws are getting mixed messages: Lock the criminals up. Don't lock them up, treat them. To ease crowding, ship them out of state. No, bring them home. But not to ''my'' town, they are told. ''Not in my back yard.'' 
Tougher sentencing laws are popular with legislators and the public. Those same laws have resulted in such a sharp increase in inmates that the state is running out of room in its prisons. The decision to send nearly 500 prisoners to Wallens Ridge Correctional Facility in Big Stone Gap, Va., last October drew opposition over allegations of mistreatment at the maximum-security facility. The complaints grew louder and drew more attention last month when three Connecticut inmates at the Virginia prison were wounded with rubber pellets after two of them ignored orders to stop scuffling. Last week, a 20-year-old prisoner from Bridgeport committed suicide at Wallens Ridge. At nearly the same time, a plan to open a jail at the New Haven armory was squelched in the Legislature. Local opposition to the project was stiff, not least because it would remove a calming influence in an already troubled neighborhood and replace it with a prison. Correction Commissioner John Armstrong is asking for $50 million to ease overcrowding but to expand at some existing sites, not to build new prisons. State Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, said public opinion does figure into decisions on dealing with prison overcrowding. But Lawlor, D-East Haven, said some lawmakers feel the number of beds, in or out of the state, is not the only consideration. ''The question is: do we need those beds in the first place, or can we figure out another way to deal with people being incarcerated?'' he said. House Speaker Moira Lyons, D-Stamford, said there is no apparent consensus on housing prisoners in Virginia. Many legislators want to hear from Armstrong, who traveled to Virginia after the suicide, Lyons said. Armstrong may ask communities if they would be willing to expand their prisons in return for incentives such as tax deductions and jobs, said Capt. Heather Ziemba, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction. But officials are mindful that most communities would oppose any expansion. ''Somebody has to give somewhere,'' she said. ''It's just getting to a point where there are no options available.'' The state has 17,515 inmates in 20 prisons, a 22 percent increase from 5 years ago, Ziemba said. The inmate population has nearly doubled in the past decade due to tougher sentencing, and is projected to grow to more than 21,000 prisoners in 2004, she said. Ziemba would not disclose the capacity of the state's prisons, but said the recent moves to create more space underscore the seriousness of the problem. In Cheshire, now home to three prisons, residents fear there is a plan to expand a vacant building into another prison. The building is being renovated so that it could house inmates in the event of an emergency, but the state has no plans to use it as a permanent prison, Ziemba said. Joseph Grabarz, executive director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, argues that the state could quickly solve its dilemma by providing treatment to inmates with substance abuse problems or mental illness who commit minor offenses. Proponents of treatment believe the approach would save money and reduce crowding and recidivism. ''People are really pushing hard for the idea,'' said Graham Boyd, a drug policy expert for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Haven. ''I think it will happen in Connecticut.'' At least 1,000 Connecticut inmates are nonviolent offenders in jail for drug possession, according to Boyd. The Judiciary Committee is expected to study alternative incarceration for minor offenders, Lyons said. More than 1,400 inmates are already in community release programs such as halfway houses and supervised homes, Ziemba said. Correction officials are looking at whether alternative incarceration can be expanded, but that sometimes those inmates commit crimes, she said. ''We've been very, very careful about who we release in the community,'' Ziemba said. No easy solution is apparent. ''The Legislature and the public have closed certain doors, which has forced the commissioner to really get creative here,'' Ziemba said. By John Christoffersen, Associated PressPublished: April 16, 2000 Copyright 2000 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, Inc. ACLU Articles On The ACLU, Graham Boyd & Prisons:
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