The state Department of Correction’s youth development program at Garner Correctional Institution, which is intended to dissuade young inmates from prison gang membership by providing them with the education required to obtain general equivalency diplomas (GED), has been functioning well and plans to expand operations, Garner’s warden said this week.
Garner Warden Scott Semple told members of the Public Safety Committee for Garner Correctional Institution on March 5 that the youth program plans to increase the number of prison beds available to program participants to 24 beds by May 1.
The Public Safety Committee meets quarterly to discuss public safety issues as they relate to Garner, the state high-security prison at 50 Nunnawauk Road that opened in November 1992.
The existing youth development program capacity is 16 inmates. Currently there are eight Garner inmates participating in that program, the warden said.
Initial inmates in the youth development program came to Garner from Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, a high-security prison that houses inmates under age 21.
Garner’s youth development program started in April 2012. It is designed for prisoners from 19 to 21 years old.
Youth program participants are held in “close custody” in a specialized housing unit in Garner, where they are kept isolated from other inmates.
Using Garner as the site for the program allows the DOC to have the Manson Youth Institution focus on housing prisoners who are 14 through 16 years old.
The goal of the youth program is to have the participants renounce their gang affiliations, obtain their GEDs, and more broadly, not return to prison after they are released from custody.
In other business, Warden Semple told committee members that work has started in the “E” cellblock in Garner on the installation of new automated control equipment for the 245,000-square-foot prison.
The project, which is expected to take about one year to complete, will replace the original control system at the prison. Spare parts for that control system are no longer available.
New electronic control panels will allow DOC staff to remotely control door access, electricity, and water supply systems throughout the prison. The system will be operated via touch-screen controls on computer monitors.
Also, Warden Semple reported to committee members that Garner held 614 inmates on March 5.
Of that number, 310 men are mental health inmates, 192 inmates are general population prisoners, 104 men are unsentenced inmates who are awaiting trial on pending charges, and eight prisoners are in the youth development program.
Garner is the state prison that specializes in housing and treating inmates who have chronic mental health issues.
In response to a question from First Selectman Pat Llodra, who heads the safety committee, Warden Semple said that 55 inmates were being housed in the prison gymnasium on March 5. Those prisoners represent “overflow” inmates who normally would be housed in other prisons.
Warden Semple noted that the gym had housed no inmates about six weeks ago for a period of about five days, but due to inmate housing changes in the state prisons system, the Garner gymnasium, which normally would be used for recreation, is again is housing inmates.
The warden said he hopes to have no inmates being housed in the gym by June.