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Rosenthal Concerned About Possible Expansion Of Garner



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Rosenthal Concerned About Possible Expansion Of Garner

By Steve Bigham

First Selectman Herb Rosenthal this week voiced concern that state officials may be eyeing Newtown as they seek to expand Connecticut’s prison system. A recent report from the state’s Prison and Jail Overcrowding Commission recommended existing prisons within the state be expanded to address the growing convict population.

Mr Rosenthal recently received a letter from Department of Correction (DOC) Commissioner John J. Armstrong, which hinted that Garner Correctional Institution on Nunnawauk Road in Newtown could be a site for expansion or a new facility. The first selectman said the tone of the letter was similar to the one sent to town officials back in the mid-1980s when the state first expressed interest in building a prison here in town.

In response, Newtown’s first selectman wrote back, saying he was extremely concerned with the commission’s recommendation to expand at existing facilities. He reminded Mr Armstrong of the town and state’s “hostile relationship” and history when it comes to jails and assured the commissioner that Newtown will fight it tooth and nail.

“Any attempt to build a second facility or a major expansion of the existing Garner facility will be strongly opposed by the Town of Newtown and any political might that we can assemble will be used,” Mr Rosenthal wrote.

 The first selectman went on to state that he is not reassured by Mr Armstrong’s comment that “no sites have been determined.”

“That is what we were told last time,” Mr Rosenthal said, referring to a similar letter then First Selectman Jack Rosenthal received in the mid-1980s. “The only more unsettling comment would have been that Antinozzi & Associates has been hired to do an objective study.”

The Antinozzi firm was hired by the state to conduct a site selection study in 1987 and, according to Mr Rosenthal, included inaccurate information about Newtown demographics. The report made Newtown a top candidate and eventually led to the construction of the 800-bed Garner jail. The state later admitted the report was flawed.

“The town was told that Garner would be a 400-bed jail and it immediately became an 800-bed Level 4 prison. When the prison first opened, two prisoners escaped and there was a riot at the facility. Better security and better management have improved those conditions,” Mr Rosenthal said, crediting Warden Remi Acosta and Warden Giovanny Gomez.

The state will hold a meeting of the Prison Advisory Committee March 17 in Cheshire to further discuss prison expansion plans. The meeting will be of keen interest to Newtown resident Wendy Beres. Mrs Beres, a member of the town’s Public Safety Committee, led the effort to keep Garner out of Newtown more than 10 years ago. She chaired the once 1,000-member Citizens Action Group Against the Jail, Inc (CAGAJ). She fears plans to add on to the Garner site may already be set in motion.

 “Personally, after watching the way Newtown works, I’d say Newtown is in serious trouble. If the state dares to put another facility on top of our sole source aquifer, there’s going to be a fight,” she said Wednesday.

Mrs Beres applauded Mr Rosenthal for taking a stand against any prospective prison plan early on. She also urged the town to purchase Fairfield Hills soon to ensure that the site remains prison-free.

Garner, a high-security prison, first opened in November of 1992. It is designed to house more than 700 inmates. It is the state’s prime prison for housing violent inmates with gang affiliations.


In an effort to address the state’s growing prison population, the Prison and Jail Overcrowding Commission has recommended the following:

1. The overall capacity of the Department of Correction should be increased through an expansion of secure capacity at existing facilities. Expansion of secure capacity should be in the form of celled living units.

2. Secure capacity expansion should replace existing, aging temporary dormitory housing with permanent celled living units.

3. The Prison and Jail Overcrowding Commission will continue to meet to further explore issues, causes, and resolutions to manage and, where possible, reduce the prison and jail populations through the development of collective and balanced strategies. A report of further recommendations to the Governor and Legislature will be made as deemed appropriate.

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