Pubdate: Sun, 15 Sep 2002
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2002, New Haven Register
Contact:  http://www.newhavenregister.com
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/292
Author: Christa Lee Rock

PACKED JAILS REACHING CRISIS LEVELS

A convicted drug dealer, Bryon Welch is staring down more than 20 years 
behind bars in the state and federal systems. But in the upside-down logic 
of prison life, Welch might consider himself lucky.

Unlike other prisoners convicted of state crimes, Welch gets to sleep in 
his own bed in a Rhode Island federal detention center. The 36-year-old is 
no longer shoehorned into a conference room or gymnasium where he sleeps 
with dozens of other inmates. He's not bedding down in a "boat," the 
temporary cots where up to 900 Department of Correction inmates sleep every 
night.

Thousands of inmates are sleeping "dorm-style" in converted gymnasiums and 
medical facilities as the state's prison population has experienced 
constant, unprecedented growth since July 2001.

State corrections officials say there's little end in sight. The prison 
population has increased by 6.4 percent in the last year alone, causing the 
department to break its own population records on an almost weekly basis. 
On Sept. 4, DOC officials hit an all-time occupancy high, only to have that 
surpassed on Tuesday, when the total incarcerated ballooned to 19,175 
statewide.

"These are record-breaking numbers," said Christina Polce, a DOC 
spokeswoman. "But we can't close the doors and say we're full. It's our 
responsibility to manage these folks, and to make our staff safe. a | But 
it's been a challenge."

These new records come just as the state plans to add new beds and prepares 
to extend its three-year contract with the Virginia Department of 
Corrections to house 500 Connecticut inmates. The $12 million deal 
attracted controversy in 1999 when the state shipped its highest-security, 
longest-term inmates to Virgina's Wallens Ridge facility, but two prisoners 
died there, including one non-violent drug offender who was close to 
finishing his three-year sentence.
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