Shuttered Niantic prison may reopen under federal plan

The Connecticut Department of Correction might reopen the J.B. Gates Correctional Institution in Niantic if the state accepts an additional 150 pre-trial federal inmates from a private facility in Rhode Island.

Andrius Banevicius, public information officer for the DOC, said the agency was recently approached by the federal government to accept the additional male inmates, who have been charged in Connecticut with federal crimes. He said the DOC houses 50 federal inmates at the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown and receives a rate of $88 a day per prisoner.

Gates, which has a capacity of 900 inmates, was closed June 1, 2011, in an effort to save the state money, with 700 inmates relocated to other facilities throughout the state.

Banevicius said that if the proposal is accepted, the state will receive a new per diem rate of $109 for all 200 inmates. According to the fiscal year that ended in 2012, it cost the state $95.16 to house its prisoners, he added.

"At this point, it's just a proposal," Banevicius said. "Logistically, it would be easier for the inmates to travel within the state instead of going back and forth from Rhode Island. They would have better access to their lawyers as well. It would save the federal government money."

The U.S. Marshals Service transports the pre-trial federal prisoners. An official there could not be reached for comment.

The DOC said it would cost about $7.5 million to reopen Gates, but the state would net a profit of about $1.5 million. The DOC has sent its fiscal analysis of the proposal to the Office of Policy & Management to determine its accuracy.

Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for the criminal justice division of the Office of Policy and Management, said about a year ago, the DOC was approached by the Connecticut District Court judges about the possibility of housing more inmates.

"We are taking it into consideration and at the moment evaluating whether it is a cost-effective idea," he said. "We also looking at other factors like whether we would be putting the public safety at risk."

The DOC said that reopening Gates would also allow them to house an additional 250 general population beds, which would reduce overtime costs due to those inmates being detained in overflow units like those being housed in a gym at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville.

Banevicius said 75 temporary cots have been set up at the Uncasville prison, where there are 1,600 inmates. The facility holds men who are labeled three and four offenders on a security scale, with five being the highest.

Banevicius said the population at the prison ebbs and flows, particularly because Corrigan serves as an intake facility for the newly arrested in addition to housing sentenced prisoners. He said a variety of factors could contribute to the influx, including a possible spike in arrests.

"We can't control how many people get arrested on any given day or night of the week," he said. "Once they are sentenced, they are sent to other facilities in the state."

The statewide prison population as of Friday morning was 16,700, which he says is trending down. In July, the population was 17,000.

i.larraneta@theday.com

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