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‘We’re shorthanded': FCI Danbury launches major recruitment drive amid staffing shortage

“If we get more staff, then the working conditions would be better. If we got 10 more people, the working conditions would be astronomically better here. Most of the problems we have here come from our lack of staff,” the prison union’s president said

FCI Danbury

“Here at FCI, we are in an all-out recruitment effort to get as many qualified staff here as possible,” said Stover, the warden of the Danbury prison, “and in that vein specifically, we are looking for correctional officers.”

Federal Bureau of Prisons

By Kaitlin Lyle
New Haven Register, Conn.

DANBURY, Conn. — Between recruitment events, hiring incentives and a billboard on Pembroke Road to advertise job openings, Rick Stover said the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury is “actively looking for employees” to increase the prison’s staffing levels.

“Here at FCI, we are in an all-out recruitment effort to get as many qualified staff here as possible,” said Stover, the warden of the Danbury prison, “and in that vein specifically, we are looking for correctional officers.”

As of Jan. 22, FCI Danbury had 270 employees on staff — the majority of whom “live within one hour of Danbury,” according to Stover. While not all of the staff started their career at the prison at 33 1/2 Pembroke Road, Stover said many staff transferred to Danbury from other prisons within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

While there have been concerns from the union in recent years over staffing levels, working conditions and even reports of discrimination against minorities, Stover said these issues are “not unique to Danbury " and are happening throughout law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“The staffing leads to multiple issues,” he said. “You can safely say that staff morale is directly based on staffing levels, so if we have low staffing levels... what happens is we sometimes unfortunately have to mandate our staff to work overtime to cover certain correctional posts. Obviously, that’s not something we like to do and the more staff that are mandated, that keeps them from spending time with their families.”

Robert Curnan, president of the prison’s labor union AFGE Local 1661, said prison staffing is a national issue and while there has been some debate about how low staffing levels are at FCI Danbury, “everybody agrees we’re shorthanded.”

As for the prison’s working conditions, Curnan said the prison puts in requests to the state for improvement projects “and every year, they tell us there are prisons in worse conditions so we keep getting pushed back.” He said the prison’s facilities department is doing everything it can to maintain and repair the building.

“If we get more staff, then the working conditions would be better,” Curnan said. “If we got 10 more people, the working conditions would be astronomically better here. Most of the problems we have here come from our lack of staff.”

Staffing at FCI Danbury is at “approximately 90 percent” and officials are hoping to bring staffing up to 100 percent through the prison’s recruitment efforts, Stover said. He said as of Jan. 22 they were actively working to process applications received at the prison’s last recruitment event in December and anticipated hiring between 10 and 15 correctional officers within the next month.

Applicants can apply for work at FCI Danbury directly online at the federal government’s website.

“Everybody’s pitching in to try and get people to apply,” Curnan said. “Once we get people to apply, we can start the interview and hiring process but that has been lacking in the past. The new administration is really putting an emphasis on that, which is a nice change.”

Among the prison’s hiring incentives, Stover said the prison “immediately” starts its correctional officers off with a salary of about $50,000 with a 25 percent signing bonus. The prison also offers retention incentives to retain staff eligible for retirement.

“We have made efforts to continually recruit the qualified staff that we have and the union and I are on the same page that we both want to fill every spot possible with qualified staff,” Stover said. “As our numbers increase staffing wise and we get closer and closer to the 100 percent staffing, we’re hoping that has a direct impact on the morale at FCI Danbury.”

FCI Danbury’s economic impact

Hiring officers and other staff from the Danbury area is the biggest and “most obvious effect” the prison has on the local economy, Curnan said. He said the prison’s staff and union use local restaurants and stores for prison-related events, and staff often use local businesses “for food and such for our unexpected overtime shifts.”

“We utilize local businesses whenever possible, including repair shops and contractors for jobs larger than we can handle with our few facilities staff,” he said.

“Besides the effect that employment has on the area, FCI Danbury is the largest user of water and electric in the area,” Curnan said. “We pay taxes based on water use to the city of Danbury .”

Beyond their prison responsibilities, FCI Danbury staff take part in a variety of community service activities, such as Feds Feed Families, the Angel Tree and hygiene drives for local domestic violence shelters, Stover said.

Possibilities for self-improvement

FCI Danbury, which first opened as a low-security federal prison in 1940, holds around 1,000 incarcerated individuals at any given time, according to Stover.

The prison, which initially opened with the purpose of housing men and women, shifted to exclusively housing women in 1994 due to a shortage of beds for low-security female inmates. Incarcerated women were transferred to other facilities in 2013 when FCI Danbury became an all-male facility. The prison later reverted to housing male and female individuals around 2016 when a new women’s facility was completed.

The prison’s campus at 33 1/2 Pembroke Road includes a low-security facility for men, a low-security facility for women and a satellite prison camp for minimum-security women.

While the demographics of the people incarcerated in the prison have changed over time, Stover said the mission has remained the same: “To safely house inmates in the level that is commensurate with their security concerns and to provide self-improvement opportunities to allow them to transition and become a successful member of society.”

Among the prison’s most notable inmates over the years, FCI Danbury has housed Ring Lardner Jr., the screenwriter of the 1970 war film “M—A—S—H"; Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and conscientious objector Robert Lowell; Piper Kerman, author of the memoir “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” which was adapted into an award-winning Neflix series; Grammy Award -winning singer and actress Lauryn Hill; and Teresa Giudice, cast member of Bravo TV’s “Real Housewives of New Jersey .”

Of the 1,000 people currently incarcerated at FCI Danbury, Stover said there are about 750 people at the male low-security facility, 140 people at the female low-security facility and between 100 and 110 people at the satellite prison camp. He estimated 70 percent of the prison’s population has less than five years to serve in prison.

Just under 40 percent of the prison’s inmates have been incarcerated for drug-related offenses while around one-third of the individuals have been classified as sex offenders, Stover said. The remaining individuals have been arrested for non-violent offenses like fraud and burglary, he said.

During their sentence, individuals can participate in a variety of specialty programs offered by FCI Danbury, such as the Residential Drug Abuse Program, a Skills program for inmates with intellectual and social impairments, and the Female Integrated Treatment program, which Stover said integrates aspects of mental health, trauma, drug treatment and peer support.

“We’re very proud of it,” Stover said of the FIT program. “I’ve been in the Bureau of Prisons for 27 years and this is my first time working with a large female population. It’s very rewarding working with this group of inmates, and they really buy into the programming and take it personally and look to improve themselves prior to departure.”

The individuals are also offered opportunities to take part in community activities, such as collecting soda tabs for the nonprofit organization Ronald McDonald House Charities, participating in local hygiene drives and making baby blankets for the neonatal intensive care unit at Danbury Hospital, Stover said.

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