Letter from a prison in Connecticut

prison Connecticut

Here in Connecticut, things have become very bad for prisoners serving lengthy sentences. Public attention has been focused on prisoners serving the shortest sentences, which, of course, makes sense in that one would hope to prepare those most imminently to be released to be given as many ‘tools’ as possible to give them the best shot at successful re-entry; but the public likely is not aware that the resources being directed to this newfound belief in rehabilitation are drawn directly from programmes and services that were directed at prisoners with lengthy sentences.

Of course this new set of ‘progressive reforms’ is nothing more than a political stunt. There is no legitimate dispute as to the irreparable damage long-term segregation and stagnation does to any population, not to mention to the already damaged populace that makes up any prison system. So what possible sense does it make to leave vast segments of the prison population to degenerate in lock-down right up to the point that they are close to release, at which point the Department of Correction will go through the kabuki theatre-esque motions of ‘rehabilitating’ people who are too far gone for any of the Department's low-grade ‘treatment’ programmes to be more than a recitation of some stale programme literature and a couple of ‘tests’ that are shallow to the point of being offensive?

So many jobs, classes, programmes etc have been eliminated that facility administrators have resorted to creating nonsensical ‘busy work’ job assignments just to make it appear on paper that many more prisoners are working on a daily basis than is actually the case. For example, when I was a tier-man at Northern Correctional Institute, I was legitimately busy as it was essentially one other prisoner and myself cleaning the entire unit; here, at MacDougall-Walker CI, where the units are much smaller, there can be as many as 25 ‘tier-men’ in one block!! The vast majority of these ‘workers’ have no meaningful jobs per se, so some will be assigned to simply refill an empty hot-pot, some to wipe down a small set of chairs and some to empty two trash cans.

These phantom jobs take a prisoner five minutes to complete and then they spend the rest of their time sitting in their cells doing nothing. All authoritative data makes it clear that if the Connecticut DOC were truly interested in rehabilitation and in reducing the State's staggering recidivism rates, the very last thing it would do would be to stick massive numbers of humanity in permanent lockdown.

Most of the lockdown policies are based upon nothing more than political cowardice. While everyone interested in prison reform recognises the need to reduce the overall prison population, nobody in authority appears to have the intestinal fortitude to announce the closure of one of the State's redundant maximum security prisons, instead choosing to close small, minimum and medium security facilities which are unlikely to create too much pushback from the guard's union.

The result of this path of least resistance is that the State's Level 4 and 5 (Max and Superrnax) facilities are now primarily filled with minimum and medium security prisoners and pre-trial detainees. This is fiscally moronic, as the cost to incarcerate a prisoner in Maximum or Supermax facilities is in the multiples of what it would cost to house those same prisoners in a facility of appropriate security classification.

Currently, while the State is debating, not whether to take services away from its residents but solely what services to take, you have New England’s only Supermax prison (Northern CI), sitting basically empty while devouring millions of dollars per anum in operating costs. In 1-East and 1-West (the highest security units in the State) there are generally between 25 and 35 prisoners (in units that hold 100) under the supervision of five or six Corrections Officers at a time, staffing ratios simply unheard of in any other facility. At MacDougall CI (the State’s largest prison) I would guesstimate that 50% of the prison population are actually medium and minimum security prisoners being housed, at a steep price to the taxpayers, in maximum security housing conditions, both squandering precious state resources and sabotaging chances for those individuals to go to school, learn a trade, address addiction and/or mental health issues or any other of a plethora of actions which would actually increase their chances of successful reintegration into society.

While the State of Connecticut is eliminating municipal aid, leading to school, firehouse and hospital closures (among many, many others) it is simultaneously wasting tens of millions of tax dollars to prop up a bulging bureaucracy that the Governor himself has indicated a strong desire to reduce. At some point this starts to take on the qualities of a giant slush fund, which is bad enough on its own, but to take school breakfasts from underprivileged children to, at least in part, feed the sacred cow, is repulsive.

DJ Taylor #179983, MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution