WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes (CT-5) have sent a letter to Diane Easter, Warden of the Federal Correctional Institution Danbury (FCI Danbury), to demand answers following two gas leaks at the facility on November 13, 2020 and December 26, 2020 that pose a significant threat to the safety and security of both inmates and staff.
On November 13, Yankee Gas was dispatched for a report of a gas leak, crews isolated the leak that occurred and issued a red tag – indicating a safety concern that required immediate repair.
On December 26, first responders from Yankee Gas and the Danbury Fire Department were denied access to the facility during the incident due to poor communication at the facility, and were not allowed to access the facility until December 27. As a result of the leak, heat and hot water were turned off to a portion of the camp area, resulting in 47 female inmates being relocated to visiting rooms.
The delegation is also aware of concerns raised by families of inmates regarding the turnaround time for COVID test results and quarantining and has requested further information from FCI Danbury.
“Poor heating and cooling infrastructure poses a danger to both staff and inmates. The recent steam heat explosion the West Haven VA is an example of the very real threat to staff and contract workers from inadequately maintained infrastructure,” wrote Murphy, Blumenthal, and Hayes.
“One gas leak may be an isolated incident, but two different gas leaks in two different sections of piping in as many months is indicative of a larger, systemic infrastructure problem at FCI Danbury that must be investigated and remedied as soon as possible. Further, it is very troubling that a communications failure within FCI Danbury led the gate staff to turn away Eversource’s response team when a gas leak could pose an incredibly significant and deadly danger,” they added.
Blumenthal, Murphy, and Hayes are requesting that Warden Easter “conduct an immediate assessment of the critical infrastructure at FCI Danbury to identify and remedy any emergent health and safety issues for which we would appreciate a report on the results of that assessment. We also request that you take steps to ensure that incarcerated individuals and FCI Danbury staff alike are protected from COVID-19.”
A copy of the letter is included below:
Dear Warden Easter:
We write to express our serious concerns about conditions at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Danbury that potentially endanger the health and safety of incarcerated individuals and staff. We strongly urge your immediate review of the infrastructure at FCI Danbury and COVID-19 protocols and that you take aggressive action to eliminate infrastructure hazards and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the facility by implementing robust social distancing, isolation, and quarantine procedures, regular and rapid COVID-19 testing, and routine access to basic medical care.
We have learned that over the last two months, Eversource, through its Yankee Gas subsidiary, received two calls regarding gas leaks at FCI Danbury. First, on November 13, Eversource received a report of a gas leak and odor. Eversource dispatched a crew which found and isolated leaks in the piping that is under the control of FCI Danbury rather than Yankee Gas. The utility issued a red tag—indicating a safety concern that needed to be immediately addressed. Then, on December 26, Eversource received a second gas leak and odor call. Eversource crews arrived at the facility that day but were denied access. FCI Danbury staff indicated they were unaware of any such report. Eversource was finally granted access to FCI Danbury the next day, December 27, and found and isolated leaks in the piping under the control of FCI Danbury and issued another red tag for repairs. This was purportedly a different section of piping from the November leak. Repairs were subsequently made on December 28.
On December 27, one day after the reported leak and odor call to Eversource, the Danbury Fire Department was also granted access to the Camp to turn off the gas, shutting off heat and hot water. We understand that because of the lack of heat and hot water, the 47 women who reside at the Camp were then moved to visiting rooms in other facilities at FCI Danbury. Although we recognize that these women have since returned to the Camp without further incident, we also understand that there are reports that the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and sprinkler systems in the Camp have been malfunctioning or nonfunctional. The lack of this fundamental safety infrastructure is a problem in and of itself.
Poor heating and cooling infrastructure poses a danger to both staff and inmates. The recent steam heat explosion the West Haven VA is an example of the very real threat to staff and contract workers from inadequately maintained infrastructure.
One gas leak may be an isolated incident, but two different gas leaks in two different sections of piping in as many months is indicative of a larger, systemic infrastructure problem at FCI Danbury that must be investigated and remedied as soon as possible. Further, it is very troubling that a communications failure within FCI Danbury led the gate staff to turn away Eversource’s response team when a gas leak could pose an incredibly significant and deadly danger.
The movement of inmates in the Camp in response to the gas leak has highlighted FCI Danbury’s troubling failures to effectively respond to the ongoing public health pandemic—which has not, by any means, spared the institution. We have previously shared concerns about how FCI Danbury has handled, and is prepared to continue to handle public health guidance for social distancing, isolation, and quarantine as well as the facility’s testing practices and procedures and access to basic medical monitoring, care, and treatment. As you know, we previously wrote to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in March, April, and June expressing our concerns that FCI Danbury would be a hotspot for COVID-19, putting inmates, staff, and the greater community at risk. Those concerns have been borne out. As of January 4, 2021, according to BOP’s own COVID-19 case tracker, at present, 28 inmates and one staff member at FCI Danbury have tested positive for COVID-19. That is in addition to the 166 inmates and 73 staff members who previously tested positive for COVID-19, and one inmate who, sadly, died from COVID-19.
These numbers are, alone, alarming, but also reflect staggering conditions at FCI Danbury. A recent court decision surveys testimony from current inmates describing glaring “gap[s] in BOP staff’s checking of inmates’ temperatures and COVID-19 symptoms,” meaning inconsistent monitoring and screening for incarcerated individuals who may test positive for COVID-19 or who, at the very least, should be moved into isolation or quarantine. At the same time, you have acknowledged that the “current wait time for lab results is approximately 5 to 7 days.” As inmates are not isolated while awaiting results, this creates an extended waiting period during which incarcerated individuals are housed in dormitory-style rooms with others who have been exposed to or who are even experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, but have not yet been confirmed positive. Furthermore, you have acknowledged that quarantine space itself at FCI Danbury is “severely limited.” The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut has indicated that there has been some evidence presented suggesting that this limited space has caused “some inmates . . . [to] become exposed to COVID while in quarantine,” which, in the judge’s words, “defeats the purpose of quarantine in the first place.” These conditions, among others, including purported failures to provide basic medical care to individuals who have become ill due to COVID-19 or other underlying conditions, are the perfect storm for a more widespread—and deadly—outbreak.
Inmates already “face a substantially greater risk of contracting COVID-19 while incarcerated.” The incarcerated individuals at FCI Danbury are no exception. In fact, “the current number of infections among Danbury inmates suggests a substantially greater positivity rate than among the population of Fairfield County, where the prison is located.” For these reasons, it is more critical now than ever that FCI Danbury mitigate the spread of COVID-19 for the health and safety of the incarcerated individuals at FCI Danbury and correctional staff, and to protect the surrounding community and prevent potential strain at regional hospitals that are close to reaching capacity. That necessarily means additional intervention, including improved social distancing, isolation, and quarantine measures as well as increased, more rapid and regular testing. Anything less is unacceptable and further risks exacerbating the pandemic at FCI Danbury and the Danbury community at large.
Accordingly, we request that you conduct an immediate assessment of the critical infrastructure at FCI Danbury to identify and remedy any emergent health and safety issues for which we would appreciate a report on the results of that assessment. We also request that you take steps to ensure that incarcerated individuals and FCI Danbury staff alike are protected from COVID-19. We further ask that you provide written responses to the following questions no later than January 13, 2021.
1. Please summarize FCI Danbury’s response to the December 26, 2020 gas leak, including when the leak was first reported, why Eversource was denied access to FCI Danbury on December 26, and what procedures were followed to relocate the 47 women from the Camp to other facilities at FCI Danbury. In addition, please explain how those relocation procedures comported with public health guidance related to COVID-19, including social distancing, isolation, and quarantine measures as well as cleaning and sanitation practices.
2. Please identify the last date on which gas piping infrastructure and related appliances at FCI Danbury were inspected or otherwise checked. Please describe who conducted the inspection or check, the nature of the inspection or check that occurred, and whether any remedial action was taken following the inspection or check.
3. Please state whether FCI Danbury has—
a. Working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; and,
b. A functional sprinkler system.
4. Please describe FCI Danbury’s current COVID-19 screening procedures, including the frequency of temperature checks and symptom monitoring. Please list the number and position of staff conducting these screening procedures as well as whether there a need for more staff to conduct these screening procedures.
5. Please summarize FCI Danbury’s current COVID-19 testing practices. In particular, please address how long after reporting symptoms an incarcerated individual receives a test, what personnel or organization conducts and analyzes COVID-19 tests for FCI Danbury, and, whether an incarcerated individual who has been tested for COVID-19 but who has not yet received their results is placed in isolation or quarantine during the intervening days. In addition, please describe—
a. How often FCI Danbury conducts facility-wide testing for COVID-19 and list the dates on which FCI Danbury has done so.
b. Whether FCI Danbury has considered employing or otherwise using different COVID-19 tests or laboratories to minimize the current five-to-seven day waiting period. If not, please explain why not and whether FCI Danbury has taken any other steps to reduce the current waiting period for test results.
6. Please provide an assessment of FCI Danbury’s current social distancing, isolation, and quarantine measures, including cleaning and sanitation procedures, an accounting of isolation and quarantine spaces, and contingency plans for handling an increase in the number of incarcerated individuals who are awaiting COVID-19 test results or who have tested positive for COVID-19.
7. Please describe FCI Danbury’s current medical staffing and capacity to provide medical care or treatment to incarcerated individuals who have become ill due to COVID-19 or other underlying conditions, including how often medical staff monitors incarcerated individuals who have become ill, when medical staff intervenes to provide care or treatment to incarcerated individuals who have become ill, and what kind of care or treatment FCI Danbury medical staff is prepared to provide to incarcerated individuals who have become ill.
8. Given the recent surge in cases at the facility, has FCI Danbury requested or considered requesting that a Medical Asset Support Team (MAST) be deployed to FCI Danbury?
a. If so, please explain the circumstances surrounding the request and whether a MAST was deployed to FCI Danbury. If a MAST was so deployed, please describe the length of the deployment, who was deployed, and the effectiveness of the MAST.
b. If not, please explain under what circumstances FCI Danbury would make a request that a MAST be deployed to FCI Danbury.
Thank you for your consideration and timely attention to this matter.