Correction System Capacity

The ability of the criminal justice system to detain an offender relies on the availability of jail and prison beds throughout the process from arrest to parole. Although the correction department has a critical role in the process and is responsible for managing a system that is at capacity, the ramifications of prison and jail overcrowding -- in lowered productivity, increased caseloads and operating expenses, inability to effectively implement policy, and shifting of responsibilities -- affect all agencies involved in handling criminal cases. Most affected, however, is the correctional system, which is faced with the increased likelihood of prisoner and staff disruptions, assaults, and injuries, damage to facilities and equipment, inability to provide adequate programs and services, budgetary problems, and political backlash.

Also impacted is the state legislature. It is responsible for responding to public demand for punishment of offenders, setting criminal justice policy, and funding the criminal justice system. In 1981, 1990, and again in 2000, the legislature has been faced with the decision to build more prisons or develop alternatives to deal with the increasing inmate population.

While the current problem facing the state is prison overcrowding, it should be noted not all accused offenders are in jail nor sentenced offenders in prison. The majority of accused and sentenced offenders remain in the community awaiting disposition of pending charges or serving a sentence under some type of supervision. In fact, less than 25 percent of the average daily population of sentenced offenders is incarcerated.

Over the past 20 years, Connecticut has greatly increased its resources and capacity to manage the accused and sentenced offender population. Since 1989, the Department of Correction has added almost 10,000 new beds to the correctional system and is currently planning to add more. A network of community-based alternative sanctions and programs, administered by the judicial branch, was established. Traditional community resources, such as halfway houses and residential and non-residential treatment programs, have increased each year. The Board of Parole and adult probation division have added supervision staff to monitor offenders in the community.

The steady growth in the offender population, however, offset many of the gains in capacity and resources. Connecticut is once again dealing with an inmate population that is exceeding the capacity of its prisons and jail.

This section will provide an overview of the institutional and community-based capacity and resources of the Department of Correction, the judicial branch, and the Board of Parole. Appendix C provides a summary of the steps within the criminal justice process at which a decision is made to place an offender in the custody of the Department of Correction.

Department of Correction

Chapter TitlePrisons and jails. Currently, the department operates 20 prisons and jails throughout the state housing nearly 18,000 inmates. A correctional institution (CI) is a prison primarily for sentenced inmates, and a correction center (CC) is a jail for accused offenders. The facilities range from minimum (to maximum security. Figure II-1 shows the location of each facility in Connecticut.

Table II-1 shows the security level, type of housing, and inmate status (either pre-trial or sentenced) for each facility. The department rates, or classifies, its prisons and jails into five security levels. Level 5 is maximum security, level 4 is high security, level 3 is medium security, and level 2 is minimum security. Level 1 is reserved for community release programs, such as halfway houses, treatment programs, and transitional supervision. An objective of the security level system is to transition an inmate to the lowest security level to ready him or her for release back to the community.

Currently, the state's only maximum (level 5) facilities are: Northern CI for men; York/Niantic CI for women; and the Walker Reception and Special Management Unit (RSMU). The York/Niantic facility is unique in that it incarcerates accused and sentenced offenders at security levels 2 through 5.

Northern CI is a specialized, restrictive, behavior management facility for the department's most problematic or violent sentenced inmates. The prison also has a pre-trial unit for offenders charged with capital felonies or detained on high bonds (i.e., $1 million or more). The Walker RSMU is the department's admission center for sentenced inmates to be classified according to security, treatment, and programming needs. It also houses inmates who require special management for security or other reasons. The Manson Youth Institution is also a specialized facility, which houses security level 2 through 4 inmates under 18.


Table II-1. Prison and Jail Capacity


# of Permanent Beds

Type of Housing

Inmate Status

Minimum Security - Level 2

Gates CI




Northeast CI




Webster CI




Willard/Cybulski CI




Medium Security - Level 3

Brooklyn CI/CC




Enfield CI




Osborn CI




Radgowski CI




Robinson CI




High Security - Level 4

Bridgeport CC




Cheshire CI




Corrigan CI




Garner CI




Hartford CC




MacDougall CI




Manson YI*




New Haven CC




Maximum Security - Level 5

Northern CI




Walker RSMU




York/Niantic CI*







*York/Niantic CI is the only correctional facility for women and Mason YI is for male inmates who are under 18.

Source of data: Department of Correction

The level 4 facilities, including all jails, operate as multi-level facilities with one overall high security rating. Many have other security level housing within the facility and have an array of functions. The department can house lower security inmates in a level 4 facility, but it does not place level 4 security inmates in lower security housing. Level 4 facilities house lower security level inmates for operational reasons, such as:

Connecticut is one of only four states that operates a unified prison and jail system. In most states, the jail system is operated by county or local government agencies. Connecticut's jails primarily house accused offenders and sentenced offenders with pending criminal charges. However, the department can transfer an inmate to any facility regardless of his legal status.

As shown in the table, eight facilities provide celled housing and 12 provide dormitories or a combination of both types of units. Most of the cells are double-occupancy. For security and management reasons, the department prefers celled facilities. The dormitories were built during the prison expansion project in the early 1990s. The dormitory design was selected because it was less expensive, allowing more beds to be purchased. It was also quicker to build. The need for beds as a result of the severity of the overcrowding problem at the time took precedence over facility management and security issues.

Capacity. The department does not have an official total bed capacity for the prison system. It reports prison capacity as a fluid number based on daily inmate population needs, which are dictated by security issues, inmate admissions and discharges, court decrees, legal mandates, staffing, suitability and design of the facilities, and the number of beds. The number of beds in use can change due to building maintenance, opening or closing of a unit or facility, a renovation or expansion project, or other emergency situations (e.g., riots, fires, etc.). As a result, the department can increase and decrease the total number of available beds.

The department's ability to increase its capacity is in part due to its use of temporary beds to manage the overflow -- or overcrowding -- at a facility. Temporary beds are generally set up in nonresidential areas such as a gymnasium, service and programming areas, and storage rooms. They provide dormitory-style housing, even in celled facilities. Temporary beds, however, present the department with obvious security and management concerns.

For the purposes of this report, system capacity is defined as the number of permanent beds in a prison or jail. As shown in Table II-1, the correction department currently operates 17,600 permanent prison and jail beds, although this number may change daily for the reasons previously stated.

Since the number of temporary beds in use varies daily, the program review committee staff reviewed the number used at facilities housing the general male population1 on specific days in 1999 and 2000. The number of temporary beds ranged from a low of one on January 1, 2000, to a high of 481 on November 18, 1999, the day the department experienced an all-time high for its daily male inmate population. Between April and November 1999, the department operated a daily average of almost 300 temporary beds. Since January 2000, however, very few temporary beds have been used.

The greatest demand for temporary beds has been in the jails. The accused population fluctuates based on a number of factors such as the number of arrests, bond setting and posting, and the court's schedule. Since accused offenders are not sentenced, they may remain in jail overnight until posting bond or, if bond is denied or cannot be posted, for years while their cases are adjudicated.

Out-of-state beds. One of the reasons for the recent reduction in the use of temporary beds has been the transfer of inmates to out-of-state prisons. The transfer freed almost 500 level 4 beds in-state, relieving the strain placed on the jails.

In 1995, DOC was given statutory authority to contract with an out-of-state, public or private correctional agency for the transfer and confinement of not more than 500 Connecticut inmates. The department entered into a one-year, renewable contract, in 1999, with the Virginia Department of Correction. DOC transferred 484 inmates to the Wallens Ridge prison, a maximum security facility in Virginia.

In July 2000, 110 Connecticut inmates were transferred from Wallens Ridge to the Greensville prison, a medium security facility, also in Virginia. The Greensville prison provides more programming and treatment services, and its lower security rating and open-campus design allows for less restrictions on the inmate population. As of August 2000, there were 321 inmates at Wallens Ridge.

Inmates were selected for transfer out-of-state based on criteria established by DOC. The group of level 4 and 5 inmates included those with: (1) multiple disciplinary infractions; (2) high security risk (or gang) classifications; and (3) convictions for violent offenses. Basically, the department transferred high security and problematic inmates. Inmates ineligible for transfer are those who have:

At both facilities, the Connecticut inmates are housed separately from inmates from Virginia and 11 other states. DOC has a full-time monitor at each facility to ensure compliance with the contract. Currently, the department has no plans to terminate the contract and return the inmates to Connecticut2.


Table II-2. Average Daily Cost of Incarceration (June 2000)

Correctional Facilities

Total Average

Daily Population

Average Daily Cost*

Level 5



Level 4 Prison



Level 4 Jail



Level 3



Level 2



*Does not include fringe benefits, depreciation, or bond interest.

Source of data. Department of Correction

Cost of incarceration. Table II-2 shows the average daily cost of incarceration at each security level. The correction department calculates all costs directly associated with housing inmates such as meals, clothing, laundry, and personal items, and running the facility such as electricity, water, and heating. Health services for inmates and the department's administrative services are also included. The Department of Correction estimates it costs on average $71 system-wide per day for each inmate confined in a prison or jail.

A more accurate analysis of the average daily cost to incarcerate an inmate includes the costs of fringe benefits for DOC staff, depreciation of prisons and jails, and the bond interest for building the facilities. When these costs are factored in, the average cost for each inmate rises to $95.82 per day3.

The higher the security level, the more expensive it is to house an inmate. The facility design is more complex, and more staff are required to manage the population. Maximum security (level 5) is the most expensive at almost $122 per day for each inmate.

Minimum security facilities are the least expensive ($53 per day), but provide the most programming and treatment for inmates. The facilities are typically open-campus and, therefore, do not require the security and staff resources of a higher security level prison.

As shown, prisons and jails are both security level 4 facilities. The inmate cost is less for a jail because those facilities do not offer the programs, vocational and educational services, and treatment provided to sentenced inmates. They provide detention services for offenders awaiting release on bond and disposition of the charges against them.

Table II-2 does not include York/Niantic CI or Manson Youth Institution because those facilities house specialized populations covering a range of security levels. The average daily cost per inmate at York/Niantic, the state's only women's prison, is $96.95; it is $85.57 at Manson Youth Institution for inmates under 18. The average daily population is 1,225 at York and 667 at Manson YI. Both facilities emphasize educational, treatment, and other programs for the inmate populations.

Correctional facility planning. The Department of Correction has built new facilities or added new beds through expansion and renovation projects each year since 1989. However, less than five years after completing a prison expansion project that added 9,000 new prison beds at a cost of over $1 billion, the correction department is again attempting to build more new prisons. DOC requires an additional 1,600 high security beds to manage the current accused and sentenced inmate population.

The construction projects have been in response to an immediate need for beds due to increases in the inmate population. DOC is caught in a cycle of overcrowding. Prison projects, especially new construction, can take up to two to five years to complete. There is, therefore, a need for an accurate projection and analysis of the inmate and total offender populations to reduce the chance the system will be overwhelmed even before it has been completed.

The correction department and the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) do separate projections for the inmate population. Their current methods for projecting the growth of the inmate population has proved to be inaccurate. Both agencies track the trend by calculating growth based only on past increases. They do not calculate other factors that impact the inmate population such as the trends in the population within their crime-prone years, arrest and prosecution rates, and sentence lengths and the percentage served by inmates, or other influences such as policy changes, increases or decreases in funding or resources, sentencing and early release practices, and capacity of community-based supervision and treatment programs.

In 2000, the General Assembly appropriated $25 million to DOC for prison expansion -- the department had requested $50 million. DOC reports it has a need for about 1,600 more level 4 beds and has out-grown the existing jails. It is proposing building new or expanding existing facilities.

The department has contacted municipalities in the state to gauge interest in hosting a prison project. Formalization of construction, expansion, or renovation plans will be based on the willingness of towns to allow the project and local zoning laws and restrictions, environmental impacts, and other construction concerns. DOC anticipated finalizing the selection of a site by the end of 2000, but it has not yet received legislative bond authorization for construction.

The correction department estimated the cost of conventional construction of a level 4 security at $125,000 per bed. Given that estimate and the department's need for 1,6000 beds, the construction costs alone would amount to about $200 million, which does not include design and siting costs, bond interest, or operational or staffing costs.

DOC has explored building a facility using a non-conventional construction system of modular metal cell units. A typical structure consists of two housing units with 80 double cells per unit -- for a total of 320 beds -- and administrative and support service areas. The estimated construction costs for each building is $9 million, which is about $56,250 per cell or $28,125 per bed. Under this system, the department could build the needed 1,600 beds for approximately $45 million. Again, this cost estimate does not include any other design process or zoning costs, land purchase, bond interest, or operational or staffing costs.

Under any type of construction design, the department must resolve the siting issue. Many communities are reluctant or opposed to allowing a prison to be built and some towns that already host a prison do not want an expansion. If emergency authorization is provided by the legislature to allow the department to bypass certain building requirements (e.g., environmental impact evaluation), it estimates the facilities can be quickly constructed once a site has been approved and/or purchased.

Community-based Resources for Offender Population

Community-based capacity is determined by the number of residential program and treatment beds and the number of client openings (called "slots") at non-residential programs. Typically, more than one offender can be serviced by a single non-residential slot, which is a more flexible option than a residential bed that can only be used by one person for a specified period of time.

The Department of Correction, the Board of Parole, and the judicial branch contract for community-based resources. Table II-3 is a breakdown of the residential beds and nonresidential slots for two types of programs: (1) treatment for substance abuse, mental health, and sex offenders; and (2) work release and other service programs such as counseling, supervision and monitoring, education, out-patient treatment, employment assistance, educational and vocational training, and referral services.

The Department of Correction places inmates on transitional supervision, community release, and re-entry furloughs in community-based programs. The department currently contracts with 38 halfway houses throughout the state for a total of 743 beds -- 604 beds for male inmates and 139 for females.


Table II-3. Capacity of Community-Based Programs for Accused & Sentenced Offenders


Residential Beds

Non-Residential Slots



Work Release & Other Services


Work Release & Other Services

Department of Correction





Judicial Branch

(Board of Parole*)














*Board of Parole contracts with the judicial branch for access to program beds and slots. The number of beds and slots reserved for parole use are indicated by parentheses, but they are included in the judicial branch totals.

Source of data: Department of Correction, Board of Parole, and judicial branch.

The bulk of the community-based resources, however, are contracted for and administered by the judicial branch, which originally developed the network of alternative sanction programs for the court as a sentencing option for offenders who would otherwise have been sent to prison. Both accused and sentenced offenders are ordered into the programs by the court as a condition of bond, as a diversionary option in lieu of criminal prosecution, or as part of a sentence. The parole board also uses the programs for its parolees, and contracts with the judicial branch for access to a specific number of program beds and slots.

Figure II-2 shows the hierarchy of the alternative sanction programs. The bulk of the program slots are for nonresidential, day programs that provide a wide range of services from monitoring, supervision, and drug testing to counseling, training, and referral services. There are fewer specialized residential programs, which primarily offer substance abuse evaluations, detoxification, and treatment or work release programs.

The number of program beds and slots reflect only the capacity funded by the state. It is important to note that most offenders released to the community return to their homes or sponsors and not a state-funded bed, and many do not participate in a program or treatment. Instead, they are monitored by bail, probation, or parole staff for compliance with court-ordered restrictions on their behavior.

The cost per community-based residential bed or nonresidential program slot ranges from $4,500 to $20,000. These amounts reflect the cost of a program or service, rather than a daily participation cost. The less intensive programs such as alternative incarceration centers offer a wide range of services for a fee.

Chapter Title

1 York/Niantic CI (women), Manson Youth Institution (youth under 18), and Walker RSMU (new admissions and special management) were not included in the analysis because they house special populations and cannot accept inmates from the general male population.

2 A complaint is pending against the Department of Correction before the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) regarding the transfer and treatment of the inmates in Wallens Ridge prison. CHRO has conducted preliminary hearings and is in the process of investigating the matter.

3 Analysis conducted by the General Assembly's Office of Fiscal Analysis.


Return to Year 2000 Studies

Return to Table of Contents