New Warden On Watch At Garner Prison
You might say that the correctional career of Amonda Hannah has come full circle.
Twenty-five years ago, in August 1994, in her first post with the state Department of Correction (DOC), Ms Hannah worked as a correctional counselor at Garner Correctional Institution, the state’s high-security prison for men at 50 Nunnawauk Road. She worked in that position until 2001, when she became a correctional counselor at the much larger Cheshire Correctional Institution.
In April, Ms Hannah was named warden of the 260,000-square-foot Garner, which on June 27 housed 596 inmates, most of whom are mental health inmates. She replaced Anthony Corcella as warden, who became the warden at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville. Garner is the state prison that specializes in housing and treating inmates with chronic mental health problems. About two-thirds of its inmates have mental health disorders, with the remainder categorized as “general population” prisoners.
Garner opened in late 1992 on a 118-acre site that had been a section of the grounds at the state’s Fairfield Hills psychiatric hospital.
Warden Hannah is the ninth person to head Garner and the second woman to serve as warden there. She had been the warden at the Bridgeport Correctional Center before coming to Garner in the spring. Her current Garner wardenship marks the third time she has worked there, having served as a deputy warden at Garner for several years starting in 2011.
Notably, while working as a deputy warden at Garner in early 2013, Ms Hannah organized a DOC-wide fundraising campaign to support the victims and families of the December 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting incident, raising approximately $20,000.
About 15 of the inmates now housed at Garner are listed as “Level 5” or maximum security prisoners. The facility is designed to house “Level 4” inmates or high-security prisoners. The Level 5 prisoners are housed in a specialized section of the facility.
What makes Garner different from other state prisons in the DOC system is the high percentage of mental health inmates, Warden Hannah said. The level of interaction between inmates and staff is high compared to other prisons. Besides its correction officers, Garner is staffed with many social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, the warden added.
“What’s challenging is the unpredictability of (inmates’) behavior,” she noted.
Of the prison’s approximately 330 staff members, about three-quarters of those workers are involved with prison security. Besides its security staff, Garner has extensive video surveillance gear, which displays to correction officers what is occurring and can play back video for use as evidence in court, if needed.
To guard against the prospect of inmate suicides, Garner staff is specially trained to identify prisoners who are inclined to kill themselves. Such inmates receive closer monitoring than other inmates, Warden Hannah said. Inmates considered to be the most acutely mentally ill are held in the prison infirmary.
Because working in a prison environment is emotionally taxing for prison staff members, the DOC has programs keyed to maintaining staff morale, she said. One such recent effort was Garner staff members’ participation with Newtown Police Department members in the Newtown leg of the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run.
The DOC operates an employee assistance program to help staff members deal with a range of problems that they may encounter, Warden Hannah said.
“This is a stressful job,” Warden Hannah said of the situations that DOC workers face in a high-security prison. But DOC staffers’ work managing high-security inmates with mental health disorders can be simultaneously challenging and rewarding, she also noted.
Warden Hannah said that as warden at Garner, she is now able to mentor other DOC staff members, especially women and minorities.
Among the satisfactions of working at Garner is watching mental health inmates improve their behavior and then move on to another prison where they can live in a less restrictive environment, she said.
To ensure that DOC staff members who transfer from other prisons to Garner do well in a facility where the mentally ill are incarcerated, those workers receive suitable training on how best to interact with mentally ill inmates, Warden Hannah said.
“You gain so much here... You experience a broader range” of situations than would occur in a conventional prison, the warden said.
While working at Garner for the third time, Warden Hannah said she hopes to increase programs for inmates, such as additional recreation; she hopes to have a recreation supervisor named for the prison.
To introduce herself to local officials, in early June, Warden Hannah attended a quarterly meeting of the Garner Correctional Institution Public Safety Committee.
The public safety committee, whose membership includes representatives of the police department, fire service, school system, and Legislative Council, plus several town residents, has regular meetings for discussion of public safety and security issues posed by the presence of Garner.