Congressional leaders demand answers about Danbury prison gas leaks, COVID-19 protocols

Photo of Kendra Baker

DANBURY — Connecticut’s delegation to Washington, D.C. is demanding answers from Danbury prison officials about two gas leaks, as well as COVID-19 testing and quarantining protocols at the facility.

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5, wrote to the prison’s warden, Diane Easter, demanding answers following Nov. 13 and Dec. 26 gas leaks at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, which they said posed “a significant threat to the safety and security of both inmates and staff.”

During the November incident, Eversource’s Yankee Gas subsidiary responded to the prison, isolated the leak and issued a red tag, indicating a safety concern requiring immediate repair, according to a news release from Blumenthal’s office.

During the December gas leak, however, first responders from Yankee Gas and the Danbury Fire Department were denied access to the prison due to poor communication at the facility, according to the release, and were not allowed access until the next day. A fire department spokesman, however, said Danbury firefighters were not denied access.

The gas leaks were reportedly in different sections of piping at the prison and repairs were made on Dec. 28, according to the news release.

In their letter to Easter, Blumenthal, Murphy and Hayes wrote that “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.

As a result of the December leak, heat and hot water were turned off to a portion of the prison’s camp area, resulting in 47 female inmates being moved to visiting rooms, according to the news release.

“Poor heating and cooling infrastructure poses a danger to both staff and inmates. The recent steam heat explosion (at) the West Haven VA is an example of the very real threat to staff and contract workers from inadequately maintained infrastructure,” Blumenthal, Murphy and Hayes wrote.

COVID-19 concerns

The delegation also is seeking answers regarding COVID-19 testing and health safety practices at the low-security prison on Pembroke Road after family members of inmates raised concerns about turnaround time for COVID test results and quarantining.

Blumenthal, Murphy, and Hayes are asking Easter to “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.”

They are asking her to “take steps to ensure that incarcerated individuals and FCI Danbury staff alike are protected from COVID-19.”

Lawyers representing Danbury FCI inmates have claimed in a lawsuit that there have been delays in identifying medically fragile people for release during the pandemic. A federal court judge on Friday said he hopes vaccinations at the prison will render the lawsuit moot.

This story has been updated to reflect that Danbury firefighters were not denied access, according to a spokesman.