Garner Warden Reflects On DOC Career
Henry Falcone, 54, has spent more than 25 years working for the state Department of Correction (DOC), having served since November 2013 as the warden of Garner Correctional Institution, the high-security prison at 50 Nunnawauk Road.
On August 1, Warden Falcone will retire from the DOC, embarking on a new and likely more leisurely chapter of his life after decades of working in strictly controlled prison environments, where teams of correction officers keep watchful eyes on men imprisoned for criminal convictions.
Warden Falcone started his DOC career as a correction officer at the Bridgeport Correctional Center at 1106 North Avenue, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant. In 2006, he was promoted to the rank of captain and also assigned to Garner, where he worked under James Dzurenda, Garner's warden, who later became the DOC commissioner.
Mr Falcone became the deputy warden for operations at Garner in 2011, while Scott Semple was the prison's warden. In November 2013, Mr Falcone became Garner's warden, replacing Mr Semple, who was then promoted to a DOC administrative post. Mr Semple is now the DOC commissioner.
Each of the jobs that he has had with the DOC has been interesting, Warden Falcone said, noting the different responsibilities he handled as he rose through the ranks of the organization.
Warden Falcone said this week he plans to work again in the future, but at this point he has yet to decide what that work will be.
"I'm going to take it one day at a time," he said of his retirement. "I like to spend a lot of time with my family... I like to travel."
A key satisfaction at work has been his interaction with DOC staff members, Warden Falcone said. "It was rewarding to 'be there' for my staff," he noted.
"It's kind of a thankless job," the warden said of the DOC's keeping convicted criminals incarcerated under strictly controlled conditions. But while a prison may be a negative environment, its staff sticks together in its role of keeping things under control, he said.
Garner specializes in housing inmates who have chronic mental health problems. Warden Falcone said working in such a facility is "more difficult" for DOC staff members than working in a conventional prison, in that mental health inmates tend to be less predictable in their behavior than "general population" prisoners.
Besides the University of Connecticut-affiliated specialists who provide mental health treatment at Garner, the prison's correction officers receive periodic special training in how best to interact with mental health inmates, he said.
Of the 545 inmates who were housed in Garner on July 18, approximately 200 men were classified as mental health inmates, Warden Falcone said. The number of mental health inmates varies across time.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of his work as warden has been how best to manage mental health inmates. In such cases, critical thinking and decisionmaking skills strongly come into play, he said.
On taking a position as a prison warden, a person accepts the complexities of the work, said Warden Falcone.
"It is a tough job... a tough role," he added.
The stresses posed by working in a prison environment are a reason that the state's retirement plan for correction officers provides for full retirement benefits after 20 years of service, according to the warden.
Warden Falcone explained that in his 20s, he had worked as a union carpenter. He worked on various carpentry jobs, learning a range of skills. But when the economy turned sour, the work that was available for carpenters decreased. A relative who was a correction officer suggested that he take the state test for the post of correction officer.
Warden Falcone took that test in the late 1980s. He waited a long time, but eventually he was interviewed and later hired by the DOC for a post that provided steady employment, he said.
Asked what advice he would offer to his as-yet unnamed successor, Warden Falcone said, "Listen to your staff." The prison staff works in a "front line" situation, he said, adding that a warden paying attention to such workers' comments will be helpful in the long run.
To keep a close eye on Garner's operations, Warden Falcone has "toured" the facility on a regular basis, interacting with inmates who live in the various cell blocks.
Warden Falcone said that while residents may not like having a prison located in their town, the 245,000-square-foot facility is secure.
"It is a safe place," he said. The staff is well-trained, he added. "There's a good staff in here that's well-versed in its job," he said.
Newtown Police Chief James Viadero has known Warden Falcone for many years. As police chief, Mr Viadero is a member of the Public Safety Committee for Garner Correctional Institution, an agency that meets quarterly to discuss the public safety issues posed by the presence of Garner.
Chief Viadero said, "Henry actually grew up in the north end of Bridgeport, as did I. We also attended the same high school, not at the same time.
"We had many mutual acquaintances in law enforcement and growing up. I had some contact with him while he worked at Bridgeport Correctional Center. He always had a stellar reputation as a 'go to' guy and was extremely well respected in corrections," Chief Viadero said.
"Our agencies are very supportive of one another, and Henry valued that mutual working relationship. He is a consummate professional and was always cognizant of the community's concerns. He was always very accessible and transparent. We will definitely miss his leadership, but we wish him the best in a well-deserved retirement," added Chief Viadero.
Garner opened in November 1992. It is located on a state-owned 118-acre site that formerly was part of the Fairfield Hills property.
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