“Orange Is the New Black” Author Joins Fight to Finish Prison Renovations

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC4
    Piper Kerman spent 11 months in the women’s minimum-security prison here in Connecticut before being moved to high-security federal jails in Chicago and called the experiences like “night and day.”

    The author of “Orange is the New Black” has become a well-recognized face of prison reform and she is putting her clout behind a push to speed up renovations at the women’s prison in Danbury, Connecticut.

    Piper Kerman spent 11 months in the women’s federal correctional faciity here in Connecticut before being moved to high-security federal jails in Chicago and called the experiences like “night and day.”

    She participated in a conference call with Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy on Wednesday in which they discussed a report from the Liman Program at Yale, which exposed consequences of delays on the renovation.

    Fixes to the prison were supposed to take 18 months, but they will now take at least 30.

    As the renovation is underway, the prison is holding around 200 women, which is above its rated capacity of 146, according to the Liman report.

    Many other women have been moved to facilities in Brooklyn, New York and Philadelphia, where they have no access to residential drug treatment programs or to the Federal Prison Industries work program.

    Murphy said around 60 percent of female prisoners in Danbury have children under the age of 21 and those who have moved are much further away from their children and families.

    Blumenthal, Murphy and nine other U.S. senators have written to the Bureau of Prisons, calling into question the delay as well as the decision not to offer a residential drug abuse program.

    “We are frustrated by the lack of communication regarding both of these critical issues and deeply concerned by the impact they may have on the female inmates and their ability to successfully reenter our communities,’ the letter says.

    Blumenthal said keeping the women from their children will lead to a cycle of crime perpetuated not only by the inmates, but also by their children.

    “We lose the chance to give them justice,” he said, adding that it can create wounds that might never heal and cause life-long damage to the children.

    “It’s impossible to retain that relationship of you are 500 miles away from your children,” Murphy said.

    “A year in a child’s life is like a century,” Blumenthal said.

    Kerman put the spotlight on the overall conditions of women’s prisons and said jail facilities are “simply not appropriate places” for women to spend their sentences” because of the physical restraint, the idleness and the sensory deprivation.

    No one benefits when people come home from prison brutalized, she said.

    The women are deprived of access to family, access to work and access to programs in federal facilities, said the woman who inspired the hit Netflix series.

    “They are in a crisis situation,” Kerman said.

    “These jails are, in effect, holding facilities not designed for long-term incarcerations,” Blumenthal said.

    The issue the senators mentioned several time was that the Bureau of Prisons says they need more money, but the senators said no additional expenditure is needed.

    ‘There is no adequate explanation,” Blumenthal said of the delay.

    “This is pennywise and pound foolish,” Murphy said.
    Murphy:

    U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both of New York; Patrick Leahy, of Vermont; Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts; Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire; Bernard Sanders, of Vermont; Robert P. Casey Jr., of Pennsylvania; and Angus King, of Maine; signed the letter.
     
    Following is the letter in full:
     
    The Honorable Charles E. Samuels, Jr.
    Director
    Federal Bureau of Prisons
    320 First Street, NW
    Washington, DC  20534
     
    Dear Director Samuels:
     
    We are writing to express ongoing concerns about the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) plans to change the use of the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Danbury, Connecticut from a women-only facility to a facility devoted primarily to men. We were pleased last November when BOP announced plans to provide beds for women at FCI-Danbury following an 18-month transition period during which the Danbury facility would be renovated. Now, we have learned that BOP revised its timeline without informing us and estimates that the 18-month transition period will actually last longer than 30 months. Further, it appears that BOP may have decided not to provide a Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) in the Northeast, contrary to what our offices had been told to expect.
     
    We are frustrated by the lack of communication regarding both of these critical issues and deeply concerned by the impact they may have on the female inmates and their ability to successfully reenter our communities.
     
    Early on in the transition process, out of concern for the welfare of the female inmates, we requested information on the situation from faculty and law students in the Arthur Liman Program at Yale Law School. Their report, released today, documents the continuing harm that the transition imposes on women. While BOP delays, women are being detained in facilities that were not designed to house them on a long-term basis. Additionally, women in the Northeast may be forced to move far from their families to access essential programming, such as RDAP, which has been proven to reduce recidivism and enhance public safety. We urge BOP to expedite the Danbury transition and to mitigate the harm caused by any delay. In the meantime, we request that BOP clarify its new plans and explain what is being done to minimize harm to female inmates, their families, and their communities by answering the following questions:
     
    Transition Timeline and Relocation

    • What is the basis of BOP’s current transition timing estimate? Please provide as much information as possible regarding each phase of the transition process.
    • Does BOP have any reason to believe that there might be additional delays? What might the possible causes be and how much longer could the timeline be?
    • What efforts has BOP undertaken to expedite the transition?
    • Please identify and describe in detail any obstacles to expediting the transition timeline.
    • Has BOP explored alternatives to the metropolitan jails in Brooklyn and Philadelphia as temporary locations for female inmates during the renovation?

    Programming Changes

    • What programming that has been available to female inmates at FCI-Danbury will be unavailable to them during their temporary relocations during the renovations?
    • What programming and job opportunities can be made available to women during their temporary stays at the metropolitan jails?
    • What programming that has been available to female inmates at FCI-Danbury will be unavailable to them when they return to FCI after the renovations?
    • After the transition, will RDAP be available to female inmates in the Northeast?
      • If not, what are the reasons for terminating RDAP programming in the Northeast?
      • If not, what barriers will women in the Northeast who wish to participate in RDAP and meet eligibility requirements face in receiving permission to relocate in order to participate in RDAP?
    • What are BOP’s plans for ensuing that the new facility at FCI-Danbury will be responsive to women’s needs? Have construction and job readiness programming plans, for instance, taken account of women’s needs? 

    Notice to Judges and Female Inmates

    • What information is being provided to judges sentencing women to incarceration in the Northeast?
    • Are you providing female inmates who expect to be transitioned to FCI-Danbury with updates about the transition process?
      • If so, what form of notice is BOP providing and with what regularity?
      • If not, what are the reasons for withholding this information? Do you plan to provide notice in the future? In what form and with what regularity?

    We appreciate your commitment to making this transition as quickly as possible. We expect that you will provide prompt and comprehensive responses to our questions so that we can work together to ensure that the transition minimizes harm to the female inmates and their families and encourages successful reentry to our communities.