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Castleberry Fairs

Public Tour of New Prison Friday

Courtesy Photo The new Federal Correctional Institute has three housing units. Each housing unit have four pods. A pod is shown in the photo above. (click for larger version)
September 19, 2012
BERLIN - Representatives from local newspapers got a chance to tour the new federal prison last week. The public will have its chance this Friday, Sept. 21, 12-6 p.m.

Federal prison tour guides Judith Nichols, Satellite Operations Administrator and Public Information Officer, and Mark Williams, Safety Manager, said the Berlin prison is large for a medium security facility. It is also different from other similar facilities because, except for the building they call the "satellite camp," where minimum security prisoners are housed, it is all enclosed within one building. Most other prisons have several buildings staff and prisoner must go between.

The Berlin facility sits on 700 acres. The buildings on the site total 680,000 square feet. The rated capacity for the medium security facility is 1,152 inmates and for the minimum security facility, 128. The minimum security prisoners are the only ones that will be allowed to go out and do community service projects, such as those done by the state prisoners now.

Nichols explained there are five categories of federal prisons. The first is "high" and is know as U.S. Penitentiaries. Medium and low security facilities are known as Federal Corrections Institutes. This is the category of the Berlin facility. The next category is minimum and is known as federal prison or satellite camps. Berlin also has this type, housing 128 prisoners. The fifth is "administrative" and includes federal medical centers, facilities for inmates transferring and may house inmates of varying security categories.

Prisoners who will be housed in Berlin will be those having an average of a 10-year sentence, mostly for drug related offenses. They will come primarily from the northeastern part of the U.S. Nichols said the federal prison system tries to house inmates within 500 miles of their release residency.

Staff and the physical plant itself are broken up into two basic divisions; operations and programs. Operations is under Associate Warden Tom Werlich and programs under Associate Warden A. W. Antonelli. Operations includes: human resources, financial management, health, food, inmate services and computers. Programs includes: corrections services, programs for the inmates, religious services, psychology, education and recreation. Each of these sub-categories are covered by department heads under the two wardens.

At present 125 staff have been hired. Eight more will be on board by the end of September. About 25 percent of those hired already are local. However, the first staff were bureaucratic, those with experience in prison management. It is expected more local people will be hired as things continue. Nichols said staffing was going a little slower than originally anticipated, but was coming along. She didn't know exactly when the prison would be fully staffed. As is well-known by now, staff must be 37 years old or younger and all are trained as correctional officers.

Of the 341 staff that will eventually be on site, 160 are correctional services staff, which the public would consider "guards." They are made up of one captain, 12 lieutenants, 140 correction officers, a captain's secretary, discipline hearing officer and discipline hearing office secretary.

At present there are 24 minimum security prisoners at the satellite camp. More were scheduled to arrive the day of the press tour (Thursday). Prisoners in the satellite facility can have no more than 10 years to serve, the average is seven years, and most offenses are drug related.

Entering the prison, a visitor goes first to a reception desk. There one has to fill out paperwork that includes a questionnaire asking if you have on you things like a camera, cell phone, recording device, a weapon, drugs etc, (the press was not allowed to take cameras, cell phones, or tape recorders inside. Pictures were provided on disc).

Before entering a "sallyport," an area between two heavy sliding doors, another security area looks at drivers' licenses before proceeding. Entering the sallyport area the first door opens and closes before the second door opens. Both doors cannot be open at the same time. Past this a visitor is now truly in the prison. A long underground tunnel leads to the actual prison areas.

The first stop on the tour is the visiting area. Off the main large room is a smaller room where a prisoner can visit with his children. Inmates with children are encouraged to participate in the parenting program offered. There are also private rooms for attorney consultations. Video conferencing will also be available. All visitors must go through a metal detector and X-ray machine. Visiting days will be Saturday, Sunday and federal holidays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There are two main wings of the prison. The Blue Corridor, which houses inmate programs, education and housing and the Green Corridor housing health facilities, food and safety.

The medical facility has one Clinical Director, Dr. Holloway, who oversees the entire medical area. There will be one dentist, one dental hygienist, four nurses, three mid-level practitioners, a medical records tech and laboratory tech. There are two observation rooms. These are areas prisoners may be housed that may need to be separated from the general population because of contagion or must be observed because they are suicidal. The Berlin prison is a Care Level I facility, which means prisoners here are the healthiest. If that should change, the nearest federal medical center is in Devens, Mass. Prisoners who request health services pay a $2 co-pay.

The Correctional Systems area includes: mail room, receiving and discharge area and records office. Mail for the facility, including prisoners' mail, is collected at the Berlin Post Office. Inmates leave their mail unsealed and it is read for any intelligence that may be gathered before being sent. Mail coming in is opened and screened.

The records office holds all the judicial and commitment paperwork. Actual sentence computations for all federal inmates is done at a facility in Texas. Two times a week this office has hours inmates can come and discuss any concerns they have.

The receiving and discharge area receives prisoners. They all come by bus. Their restraints are removed and they are put into a holding cell. They are searched and given their prison clothing. Minimum security are in brown, medium security in khaki. They are given social and medical screenings to make sure it is appropriate to put them in the general prison population. They are fingerprinted, a photo taken and admitted to the date base. They are given an ID, which they are required to wear at all times.

The next area on the tour was the Special Housing Unit, with a capacity of 188. These house prisoners who are separated from the general population for various reasons. They have a separate recreation area and are allowed one phone call every 30 days. Depending on why they are there, they may or may not have access to their personal property.

The dining room looks much like any institutional cafeteria. It seats 400, so there will be three seatings for each meal. During the noon meal department heads provide the supervision and inmates can ask questions of them during that time. The federal bureau of prisons has a national menu, so whether a prisoner is housed in Berlin or Texas, they will be eating the same things. There are some selections to choose from and accommodations are made for religious and medical needs. Prisoners go through a line to get their meals; they are served a specific portion and may not go back for seconds. The prison is hoping to start a culinary arts program.

There is a central laundry and barbershop. Prisoners clothing is labeled and they bring their laundry to be cleaned once a week.

There are several options for recreation, both indoor and out. The recreation department is made up of one supervisor and seven recreation specialists. Prisoners can use the recreation facilities when they are not working or in school. Recreation facilities are generally open from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. All inmates have a work assignment, generally 7-3, and they earn 12 - 40 cents per hour, which is put on their commissary card.

Outdoor options include: softball, soccer, football, flag football, basketball, handball, horseshoe and a walking track. The outdoor recreation area is 13 acres. Indoors there are three gyms, a music room, classroom, hobby/craft room, art room, and game tables.

Nichols explained a medium security prison has a controlled environment. That means every hour, on the hour, inmates have 10 minutes to move around. For example, an inmate done with an art project may want to head to the gym for some physical activity. They do that during that period.

Religious services are available. There is one staff chaplain and one supervisory chaplain. Services are held in an auditorium that can be divided to accommodate more than one service at a time.

There is a psychiatry service with one chief of psychiatry and nine staff members. They work within the housing units and with programs like AA and NA. There is also a nine-month residential drug abuse program housed within one of the housing pods.

Education is also offered. Inmates without a high school diploma must participate. There is also vocational training programs, parenting programs, and ESL (English as a second language) programs. There's a law library and a regular library also in this area.

There are three housing units. Each unit has four pods. Each pod holds 100 inmates. There is one manager for each of the three units. There are three case managers, three correctional counselors and two secretaries. The case managers work with the inmates within the pods making program recommendations and helping inmates get ready for return to civilian life, a process that usually begin 17-19 months before an inmate is scheduled to be released.

There are computers in each pod, but they do not hook up to the Internet. They are on a "Tru-Link" system, which allows access to the law library and emails to family. Each email costs the inmate five cents. There are also game tables within each pod and there will be televisions as well. There are also phones and each inmate is allowed 300 minutes of phone time per month. Inmates can have an MP3 player.

There are four cell checks per day: 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 4 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and midnight.

The commissary has things like food, hygiene products, some clothing, stamps, batteries and some over the counter medicines like aspirin. Inmates pay for these things using their commissary card.

The September 21 open house will be the only opportunity the public has to see the facility. Once medium security prisoners start arriving a tour like this will not be possible.

Garnett Hill
Martin Lord Osman
Parker Village
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