Prison reform champion Alison Bassett understands the strong sentiment among many residents that Rocky Hill is the wrong location for the state's intended nursing residence for terminally-ill prisoners and patients with mental illness. However, she perceives a familiar syndrome in their collective opposition.
"NIMBY ('Not In My Backyard') is far too prevalent in a lot of areas in Connecticut," she said of the common tendency of more affluent communities to resist placement of unwanted projects in their towns and use political muscle to redirect them somewhere — anywhere — else.
As an employee of a state social services agency, Bassett is well-acquainted with the end result once wealthier municipalities have blocked public projects such as the planned convalescent home.
"They get placed in unsafe, impoverished neighborhoods where underfunding actually does create a safety risk," she says. Such projects, she adds, often end up "congregated in the same areas."
According to Bassett, poorer cities tend to become dumping grounds for these projects because "they lack clout."
"These are communities where people are working so hard just to make ends meet that politics isn't at the forefront of their minds," she elaborates.
Bassett, who is a candidate for an administrative position in the new facility's mental health department, also sees villification of the mentally ill in some of the objections.
"Demonization can be a part of it. The community is going to be skeptical of any group outside the norm of society, and it will lead to fears that are exaggerated."
As an applicant to the facility, Bassett has knowledge of its prospective operation that she can not share. But, as for would-be residents, she states emphatically, "they will not have access to the community."
Bassett also advocates on behalf of the dying prisoners the facility is set to house. The nursing home will offer "humane treatment for people who are going to die and allow them to see their loved ones in their final days," she declares.
"Why deny them the humane, medical treatment they need?" she questions, while acknowledging the existence of alternate locations where such individuals could receive care.
Bassett is aware that hers is a lonely voice. The proposed facility is opposed by , and the state corrections union. Residents have also launched a vociferous protest against the plan.
And given that the town has filed legal action to stop the facility from opening, Bassett similarly realizes that neither she nor anyone else is likely to start work there in February when it is scheduled to begin operations.
"This is gonna be tied up in court for a while."