As Connecticut legislators debate how to control the state’s spiking prison population, the state has plowed ahead on a multimillion-dollar renovation of a 504-bed wing of the Cheshire prison – space it plans to keep vacant, the Hartford Courant reports. Correction officers have made no secret that they object to reserving the prison’s north block for emergencies instead of opening it to ease overcrowding at other prisons.
Statel prison population recently reached an all-time high of 19,875, and correction officers say that constitutes the very type of emergency the north block is supposed to address. The state has spent $12.4 million renovating Cheshire’s brick north block, the oldest part of a prison built by a chain gang in the early 1900s. Work continues for the sole purpose of getting it in shape for an emergency that would require a mass evacuation of another prison. Despite the system’s ever-increasing population – an expert has predicted it may increase another 25 percent to 25,000 in four years – the corrections department insists it still has no plans to open it to inmates. As of last Thursday, there were 427 more inmates than there were appropriate beds in the 18-facility system. Rep. Mike Lawlor, a Democrat and co-chairman of the judiciary committee, said the state may have no choice but to open the north block if the governor and legislature don’t address overcrowding by either building more prisons or lowering the prison population.