Leading federal judges across the Northeast are criticizing a Department of Justice plan to transfer most female inmates out of a Connecticut prison and move them to facilities as far away as Alabama.
Eleven chief district court judges complained to Attorney General Eric Holder about the plan to close the Federal Correction Institute, Danbury -- the only low-security facility for women in the region -- and house male prisoners there.
Chief Judge Janet Hall of Connecticut and other chief judges from Maine to Pennsylvania said the closure of the facility, which has housed Lauryn Hill and Leona Helmsley, will result in children being kept from visiting their moms in prison.
“We are concerned about the ability of future inmates to maintain these critical ties with children and family,” New York Southern District Chief Judge Loretta Preska wrote in the Oct. 16 letter to Holder.
Relatives and children of the 1,200 female inmates housed at the prison often travel from New York, Boston, Hartford, Philadelphia and other cities to visit. Prison officials have said 60 percent of all female inmates at the facility have children under 21 years of age.
Bureau of Prison officials have said their goal is to ease overcrowding at low-security prisons that house male inmates. A minimum security camp will stay open for 200-300 women.
Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, are among members of Congress also criticizing the reorganization plan. They have said any transfer of a female inmate should be based in part on whether it can be made without having an impact on a child.
“This misguided policy will lead to more crime and more criminals -- damaging not only the mothers but their children and our communities,” Blumenthal said.
The federal judges wrote they want to work with the Justice Department to develop a solution that meets the “needs of women inmates in the Northeast.”
Justice Department officials have said their plan does allow for a minimum security prison camp to remain open for women inmates.
"We are reviewing the letter and will respond appropriately," said Ellen Canale, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice.