A Vermont correctional facility with one of the highest per inmate costs in the state will be closing on October 31. The Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor is slated to shut its doors after Vermont lawmakers called for its closure in this year's budget bill.
That leaves the question of what will happen to the site come November 1 and where prisoners currently housed there will go.
VPR spoke to Lisa Menard, commissioner of the Department of Corrections to find out more about the plans for the prison.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full audio above.
VPR: Why did lawmakers choose to close this particular Correctional Facility in Windsor?
Menard: “The Windsor facility is the oldest facility in the state. The age of the facility means that it has a lot of maintenance needs, so it's going to take more money to put into it to continue to make it a safe, secure facility.
“It's a hundred beds facility, but it takes a lot of staff to run the facility – just based on the original design.
“Again it's a very old facility, so some of the design issues – the number of outbuildings, the number of kind of cubby holes, the living unit – all require a higher and higher staffing ratio, which is what makes the facility have a higher per diem.”
How many inmates are currently housed at the prison and where will they go once the facility shuts down?
“As of today, there's actually only 48 inmates there and that is based on attrition – no inmates were moved there.
“There were 100 there when this conversation began, but just through attrition -- people leaving either maxing out or being released to a re-entry program into the community that had been planned -- it's down to 48.
“Now we're going to continue to let those numbers reduce by attrition. So far no one has been sent out of state to accommodate that number lowering.
“As we get closer to the time to actually close the facility, we'll have to determine how many inmates are left and if it's a small enough number to be able to keep them in the state in those beds, we'll be doing that.”
Is it possible that some of the inmates will be sent out of state to Pennsylvania?
“There is a possibility, not necessarily those specific inmates, but if there are remaining inmates when the time comes for the closure and we don't have available beds in this state, we will have to make a move of some inmates out of state.”
What about employees at the prison. How many are there and what's going to happen to their jobs?
“There are 53 employees. Their actual positions will be reduced – meaning those specific positions will be reduced.
“For the staff themselves that are in the positions, we're working with the Department of Human Resources, the Vermont State Employees Association, to try to make sure that they have other positions somewhere within the state – preferably within the department of corrections. If there are vacancies, those staff will be given priority for those vacancies.”
Lawmakers want to reopen the prison eventually as a re-entry facility. What exactly does that mean?
“That's correct. Some of the language that they put in the budget bill asked for the department to draft a report, which is due in November, that looked at the potential of transitioning the facility to -- their language was -- a secure re-entry facility.
“They asked that it look at offering vocational services, offering very targeted re-entry services, things like working on license reinstatement before somebody left, potentially giving skills in information technology for those people who have served a lot of time and might not be totally literate –for lack of a better term – in technology.
“So those are some of the things they wanted us to look at and including partnering with the Department of Labor to see if there were opportunities there as well.”
“In speaking with the town, they obviously would like the facility repurposed in some way. They're not saying that they need it to be a correctional facility, but they don't want it vacant there.
“They're asking about could it potentially be used you know for some agricultural purpose – it's in a good location for that.”
And the Department of Corrections is putting together a report for the legislature. Is that going to focus on possibilities for the site besides the re-entry facility?
“We will certainly address everything the legislature has asked us to – as far as a secure transitional facility, we will fully address that. And we will very likely add in a section of other ideas that are generated for the use of that site.”
Do you have your own opinions or what you'd like to see happen to this facility?
“You know ideally for me, this facility becomes part of a larger conversation and that conversation is around what are the needs of the correctional system for beds.
“And beyond that, what are the needs for the Agency of Human Services for beds -- because even if say it did reopen – if we continue to put money into a facility that's not efficient, at what point can we look at having money to do different things, to bring people back from out of state or other things. Perhaps looking at a larger facility that is more efficient more modern that type of thing.
“So ideally for me, it becomes part of a much bigger conversation. The agency secretary right now is working on a report again to the legislature – I think, January of 2018 – looking at just that. What are the system's needs for beds – so this is perhaps bigger than the Department of Corrections.”