Two U.S. senators said Wednesday that they were denied access to major parts of a federal prison in Connecticut while trying to examine conditions there in response to correctional officers’ complaints about a staffing shortage and lack of coronavirus precautions.
Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, both Connecticut Democrats, visited the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution but were not allowed to see the women’s facility, Murphy said. They were able to see a men’s unit but had to “fight” to get in, he said.
“This is unacceptable,” Murphy said in a series of tweets. “DOJ and the Bureau of Prisons needs to fix this and assure that policymakers can view conditions, especially during crisis moments like this.”
The federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to questions about the senators being denied access and correctional officers’ concerns about staffing and coronavirus protocols. A bureau spokesperson said responses were being prepared.
The Danbury prison complex houses 1,078 inmates, according to the bureau. Murphy and the local correctional officers’ union say about 40% of the inmates are in isolation or quarantine because of the coronavirus.
Shaun Boylan, a Danbury prison staffer and executive vice president of the local prison staff union, said a staffing shortage is requiring many correctional officers to work double shifts. Officers are exhausted, morale is low and conditions are dangerous, he said.
Boylan said there are just over 80 correctional officers at Danbury, compared with 115 two years ago and 72 officers short of meeting the Bureau of Prisons’ own staffing guidelines. While the bureau’s goal is one officer per prison unit, the Danbury staff to unit ratio is 1 to 3, he said. Thirteen officers are out of work because of the virus, he said.
The bureau has said Danbury is more than 90% staffed, but the union doesn’t agree with that number.