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Although he has worked for the state Department of Correction (DOC) for more than 20 years, the stark steel and concrete confines of the sprawling Garner Correctional Institution at 50 Nunnawauk Road are still a relatively new place for Garner Warden Anthony J. Corcella, 46, who started in that post about three months ago.
Warden Corcella’s past work for DOC has included assignments at York Correctional Institution and the former Gates Correctional Institution, both in Niantic, as well as Brooklyn Correctional Institution in Brooklyn. York is the only state prison which has female inmates.
In his new post, Warden Corcella is aided by Garner deputy wardens Kimberly Jones and David Egan. Warden Corcella fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Garner’s former warden Denise Dilworth.
Warden Corcella is the eighth person to head Garner since it opened in November 1992. The 260,000-square-foot high-security facility, which is set on a 118-acre site, specializes in the incarceration and treatment of mental health inmates.
On June 19, Garner held 563 male prisoners, of whom 312 men, or about 55 percent of the inmates, were classified as mental health inmates. In a prison system in which the highest security rating is Level 5, Garner has a Level 4 rating. About 80 percent of its inmates on June 19 were listed as Level 4.
Warden Corcella said staff members at Garner have been very welcoming and helpful to him in new role.
The task of Garner within the state prison system will remain the same — providing incarceration and treatment for mental health inmates, with the goal of improving the services which it provides, Warden Corcella said.
“Safety and security is always paramount,” he said, with a prime DOC goal being maintaining public safety, he said. “The correctional environment is a stressful environment,” he noted.
Warden Corcella said he has three prime tasks to accomplish after becoming Garner’s warden — learning the intricacies of the prison building, learning about the prison staff, and learning the specific procedures followed by the staff. He said he has spent time reviewing the planning documents kept by the prison that list possible responses to various emergencies. Each DOC prison has its own specific emergency plans.
“I’m tapping into all the staff that I have,” with questions about Garner’s operations, he said.
Of Garner’s role in providing mental health treatment, Warden Corcella said the DOC’s goal is to suitably address inmates’ mental health needs and return those inmates to a “general prison population,” as soon as possible.
“What makes it challenging with a mental health population is…unpredictability,” he said. At times, some inmates avoid taking their medications, he said.
Notably, Garner’s staff has extensive training in suicide prevention. Mental health inmates are seen on a regular basis by prison medical staff who watch for any changes in behavior that may signal problems, he said.
Asked what he enjoys doing in his spare time, Warden Corcella said he follows New York’s professional sports teams, especially the New York Yankees. Also, he enjoys working on his autos, which include a 1986 Chevrolet Corvette, 1992 Acura Legend, 2003 BMW 325-i, and a 2005 Acura TL.
Warden Corcella said he also enjoys gardening, and he grows a wide range of vegetables.
The Warden declined comment on the chief state medical examiner’s recent ruling that the death of Garner inmate J’Allen Jones, 31, on March 25 at the prison was a homicide, which state police are investigating.