Windsor resists plan for youth detention facility at former prison

  • Cabbages still fill a section of garden that yielded 4,000 pounds of produce this year by the labor of inmates at the Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor, Vt., Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The original dormitory was built in 1916 by warden Ralph Walker who started a farm run by inmates as an experiment on 1,200 acres of state-owned land. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 1/28/2022 5:00:37 AM
Modified: 1/28/2022 4:59:24 AM

WINDSOR — Two identical bills in the Vermont Legislature proposing a 10-bed facility for juveniles in the justice system at the former state prison will not find support in the town, Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh said.

“Over the years (since the prison closed in 2017), we have done community outreach and surveys with residents on what you would like to see there, and by a 2-to-1 margin, residents said no social services and no prison,” Marsh said this week. “This is not NIMBY (not in my backyard). We had a prison here for 200 years.”

Both bills, one in the House and the other in the Senate, have identical wording. They propose spending $3.16 million for the Department for Children and Families to “fit-up space for 10 beds at the former Southeast State Correctional Facility for use as an emergency secure facility for justice-involved youth.”

The facility, off County Road, would possibly serve only temporarily, as the bills further state that the Secretary of Human Services would have until Dec. 1 of this year to submit a plan for a 10-bed secure youth facility, including a location and estimated capital and operating expenses.

State Rep. Francis McFaun, a Barre Town Republican, introduced HB 487. McFaun said this week the former Southeast State Correctional Facility is ideal for his proposal.

“My thinking is here is a facility that was a prison before, and this would be on a temporary basis,” McFaun said. “The buildings are there, so why not utilize them until we figure out where to put these kids on a permanent basis?”

Both bills are in their chambers’ respective committees dealing with institutions and corrections.

McFaun said he was called to testify on the bills before both committees, and he believes they may be trying to decide which one takes the lead because they are identical.

The state’s last facility for youths was Woodside Juvenile Correctional Facility in Essex, Vt. It closed in October 2020, and McFaun said juveniles now have to be sent out of state.

“It is tough on the families if they are out of state,” McFaun said. “Part of helping these kids is to get them back with their families.”

State Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, chair of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions, said the panel has not scheduled hearings on the proposal.

“At this point, we are not working on the bill,” Emmons said in an email. “We also took testimony on the report from the summer/fall committee that looked at different options for the use of the Windsor property. We are in the very preliminary stage of gathering information, and the committee hasn’t made any decision at this time on the future of the state-owned Windsor property.”

In November, the Development Review Board in Newbury, Vt., unanimously rejected a proposed six-bed secure facility for youths at a former bed and breakfast on Stevens Place, a Class 4 road. The facility would have been privately owned and leased to the Department for Children and Families. Renovations to the property were estimated to cost $3 million. The board concluded the facility would not fit the character of the area and would exceed the capacity of both emergency services and the Class 4 road.

The administration of Gov. Phil Scott said it planned to appeal the decision to the Environmental Board.

A report on the former Windsor prison released in December from a study committee concluded that some of the buildings should be demolished and said the state should decide to keep or sell the 100-acre site, costs $250,000 a year to maintain. Selling the property would require a substantial amount of money for demolition and cleanup.

The report also said another option would be public/private partnership that would redevelop the site, in a campus-like setting, that included small state facilities, housing, office space, businesses and recreational facilities where the state would maintain a small footprint.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




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