Montville suing state in effort to stop sex-offender treatment facility

Montville - When town officials say they don't want a sex-offender treatment facility here, they mean it.

The town is now suing the state to stop the $2 million, 24-bed facility from opening on the grounds of the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center six weeks after the town council voted to do so.

"The citizens are owed at least a true rationale for why it is here. The state gave us a set of numbers, and the numbers are wrong," Town Council Chairwoman Donna Jacobson said Monday night.

"It's not political maneuvering. Based on the documentation, I don't see where we have any other avenue. This needs to be looked at objectively from a third party, and that is my hope - that a judge will look at it and not base it on emotional reaction from the town or a mandate made by the legislature," Jacobson said.

The 33-page request for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief was filed electronically Friday afternoon and recorded Monday morning in Superior Court in New London. The town is not seeking monetary damages beyond reimbursement of legal fees.

By Monday afternoon, attorneys for the state Department of Corrections, the judicial branch's Court Support Services Division and The Connection Inc., the Middletown-based social services agency that will oversee the facility, had filed paperwork in court acknowledging their participation in the case.

Mayor Joseph Jaskiewicz said Monday morning that the lawsuit proves that town officials stand by their numbers and their determination that the criteria and ranking system used by the state DOC selection committee were flawed.

"Now a judge will have to consider the issue and check on the validity of the state process," Jaskiewicz said, adding that the town is still willing to work with the state to resolve the issue outside of court.

Citing the pending litigation, spokesmen from the corrections department and judicial branch said they could not comment on the issue.

Brian Garnett, director of external affairs for the DOC, added that up until Monday, when the department received notice of the injunction request, there had been a "cooperative and open discussion" between state and town officials about the facility.

"Now we'll let the litigation play out," he said.

When asked for her opinion on the chances of a judge granting the injunction, Jacobson said, "I don't look at percentages or chances. I look at it more as, 'This is what we have to say, this is our stance,' and we're presenting it to a judge."

An early concern by some was how much the process would cost and how the council would be willing to take the issue. Jacobson said the council will not allow it to become a "financial boondoggle."

"It is controlled. We are watching the cost. It's something that could affect the town for generations," Jacobson said.

Council Vice Chairwoman Ellen Hillman estimated that thus far the town has spent from $10,000 to $15,00 on the issue.

Montville officials and residents have fought against the project for months. They've held rallies, circulated petitions and protested by waving "Not now. Not ever. Not in our town" signs in the background at recent political debates.

Late in the legislative session they lobbied their five state officials - three representatives and two senators - to get a bill passed that would set limits on where such a facility could be located. The General Assembly approved the bill but it was not signed by the governor until a day after the state agencies signed the contract with The Connection Inc. to operate the facility.

In August, Montville officials filed Freedom of Information requests asking for all documentation related to the contract with The Connection and the selection process. They've met several times with their state counterparts to discuss the process, each time coming back to town energized, but disappointed that the project was proceeding.

In June, state officials visited Montville to explain the rationale for building the facility here. They said, among other things, that the facility will be monitored and clients - up to 12 currently finishing their sentences and up to 12 considered to be on probation - will be released back to their towns of origin.

Town officials took the data and, using local GIS mapping, concluded that the numbers were flawed. The state excluded several nonprofits, schools, childcare providers and other entities whose proximity to the facility should have been considered, they said.

In September, the council voted to file the injunction. Since then town officials have met again with state officials in hopes of having them review the criteria and ranking system.

Despite these efforts, Montville has remained the location of choice. Last week, the town was told things would not change.

Friday afternoon, just before the close of business, Attorney Michael P. Cary with Suisman, Shapiro in New London electronically filed the injunction request in Superior Court in New London.

"The correctional center, they've grown up with it, but there are guards, limitations put on the prison population. There is a physical boundary. These aren't necessarily part of what will go with this facility," Jacobson said.

Hillman said town officials asked for a memorandum of understanding among the town, the state and The Connection that included various security measures, such as requiring that the property be fenced and that clients be escorted by corrections employees. The memorandum was never written, she said.

Hillman and Jacobson said one of their greatest frustrations is that the region seems to believe that this is just a Montville issue. When the offenders need other support services or probationary services they will have to travel to Norwich and New London, they noted.

Garnett of the DOC would not comment on the status of the project. But visitors to the prison property can see that the area of where the facility will be built has been cleared. Hillman also said trenches have been dug for the water and sewer lines.

Because the treatment center is being built on state property, up until now contractors have not needed to acquire certain permits from the town to complete the work. To connect to the municipal water and sewer system, however, the state must acquire a tie-in permit from the Water Pollution Control Authority. A request for such a permit has not been made, said Hillman, who also sits on the WPCA.

m.bard@theday.com

www.zip06.com/montville

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