Windsor Prison Will Close This Fall

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, July 31, 2017

Windsor — The date that the Windsor prison will close is certain — Oct. 31 — but how that property eventually will be used is not.

Also undetermined is how long the Southeast State Correctional Facility will be closed for, where inmates now imprisoned there will go and how many employees’ jobs might be affected, Vermont Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Mike Touchette said.

Also unknown is whether the prison will re-open as a re-entry facility, as was originally called for by lawmakers, or whether it might be shuttered for good.

“I think it is a very challenging situation for our staff and the inmates, but I think we have a good handle on how to do this successfully,” Touchette said.

Corrections officials plan to make “every available effort” to find current employees other jobs in corrections, he said, adding that he hopes to see “little to no job loss” as a result of the closing.

Officials also will be reviewing Windsor prisoners’ sentences and seeing how many inmates can be released by the October deadline and how many will need to be transferred to other prisons.

Touchette said it is too soon to tell whether some prisoners would have to be sent to Pennsylvania, where some Vermont inmates are now serving their sentences.

Closing the prison is the result of a budget bill that passed the Legislature and calls for converting the prison to another use, such as a “re-entry facility” for inmates, something state Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, said the state lacks.

“We desperately need transitional housing,” Clarkson said on Monday. “There are people waiting in prison because we don’t have places for them to go.”

As of Monday, the Windsor prison was at half capacity with 50 inmates — a contributing factor to making it the state’s most costly prison based on per-inmate cost, which is $83,000 annually.

State Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, chairwoman of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions, said the decision to close the prison on Oct. 31 was made near the end of the legislative session in May. Windsor Town Manger Tom Marsh said he is among those who wasn’t aware of that detail and said he only recently learned there was a date certain for the prison’s closing.

Emmons said legislators will continue to discuss the future of the facility when they return to Montpelier in January, and they will do so with the help of a Department of Corrections report that Touchette and others are putting together.

As far as whether there is money in the budget to support a re-purposed facility, Emmons said that would depend on what the renovations would entail, who would use the facility and what their needs are.

“I think we will have a better idea once we know a little bit more,” Emmons said, adding that she hopes the facility doesn’t stay idle.

Whatever happens won’t happen overnight, she acknowledged, “especially if you have to tear down buildings and renovate.”

“I would hope that come next spring, we have a direction of where we are going with it,” Emmons said.

Marsh, the Windsor town manager, said on Monday he is pleased with how discussions have gone. He said his main hope was that all involved in making the decision will keep Windsor in the loop. The prison and its farm have been a fixture in the town since 1916.

“I don’t expect it to turn over in a matter of days or weeks,” Marsh said. “The concern that they will close and walk away, I don’t have that right now.”

The closing of the prison will have a few immediate impacts on the town, Marsh said, including an end to routine maintenance work that prison crews for decades have done at cemeteries and ball fields.

Eight-person work crews have provided labor at a discounted rate of $55 a day to the town, Marsh said. Without that labor, the town may have to hire someone to do that work or contract out for the services.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.