The Return of the Terrible Plan to Ship Female Inmates From the Northeast to Alabama

What Women Really Think
Oct. 4 2013 4:03 PM

The Return of the Terrible Plan to Ship Female Inmates From the Northeast to Alabama

Danbury, Connecticut and Aliceville, Alabama
The federal Danbury prison is located in southwestern Connecticut, 70 miles from New York City. The new federal Alicevill, Ala., prison is located approximately 55 miles southwest of Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Composite image by Lisa Larson-Walker/Slate. Satellite photos by DigitalGlobe/Google Maps.

In July, I wrote about a plan announced by the federal Bureau of Prisons to turn its central facility for women prisoners in the Northeast—an 1,100 bed facility in Danbury, Conn.—into a facility for men. Most of the women were to be shipped all the way to Aliceville, Ala., to a new $250 million facility.

Eleven senators from the Northeast asked the BOP to reconsider, given the harms to women of being moved far from their households and especially their children. The senators wanted to know the costs and alternatives.  

And for a time, the BOP's plan was on hold. But now it's up and running again. A few days ago, the bureau informed the senators that the temporary halt was ending and the women will be sent away. Some will likely end up in a federal prison in Pennsylvania, and others will go much farther to Hazelton, W.V. or the new Aliceville facility.

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If the bureau goes ahead, the only beds for women in the Northeast will be a minimum security “camp” at Danbury, with a capacity of 146 beds. We don’t know what services will be available to the very few remaining women there and whether the BOP has plans at some point to close the camp. The bureau’s decision sentences women from the Northeast to serve their time far from their homes.

While women will be shut out of the Northeast, 25 facilities for men will be open in the region that includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Those prisons provide beds for 18,453 prisoners.

The bureau is trying to justify moving the women out of Danbury because of overcrowding in men’s prisons. The 25 facilities in the Northeast that house men are at 127 percent capacity. But when the bureau got $250 million from Congress to build the new prison in remote Aliceville, it was on the basis of the argument that women were in need of more bed space. And the bureau has continued to report that overcrowding for women is more acute than that for men.

Amid the shutdown of the federal government, nine senators have once again written on Friday to protest this decision. (They can’t put out press releases because of the shutdown.) In a time of serious fiscal constraint, when our federal government is shut down in pitched battles over government debt, spending almost $1 million to ship women to remote prisons is fiscally irresponsible. And the BOP’s plan is morally unconscionable.   

Judith Resnik is the Arthur Liman professor of law at Yale Law School.