Windsor Prison Closes And Vermont Considers Next Step For Facility

Nov 2, 2017

A new report says the Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor could be used for transitional housing for inmates from around the state who have served out their terms but who can't find a place to live in Vermont's tight housing market.

State officials have been talking about shutting down the state prison in Windsor for years, and this week it finally happened.

At one time, there were about 100 inmates in the Windsor prison, and about 60 people worked there when the prison was at capacity.

Prison superintendent Kat Tkaczyk says that, as this week comes to a close, there are only two workers left.

"Today was the first day my staff was gone," she says as she walks through the quiet prison rooms. "Coming here today was hard. It was strange not seeing them all, and seeing it so quiet."

The Windsor prison was the most expensive to run within Vermont's corrections system, and this year Governor Phil Scott made it a priority to finally shut it down.

The Legislature made it official at the end of the 2017 session.

Tkaczyk understands the dollars and cents behind the decision to close, and she says most of the staff will be able to remain within the Corrections Department if they want.

But the Windsor prison always offered special programs that aren't available at Vermont's other prisons.

The inmates cut wood for the wood-fired boiler that heated the entire prison, and the facility had a working dairy farm at one time.
 

"Today was the first day my staff was gone and coming here today was hard. It was strange not seeing them all, and seeing it so quiet." - Kat Tkaczyk, former prison superintendent

Right up through this summer they grew hundreds of pounds of produce in the gardens here.

And every year the Southeast State Correctional Facility produced wooden toys that would be donated to the Toys for Tots program. 

Tkaczyk is sad to see all that gone.

"Staff and inmates alike were very passionate about that program," she says. "There were discussions about doing that more. My understanding is even though we did 500 toys or so, there was still never enough, and so we wanted to do more. But we didn't get the chance."

When lawmakers voted to close the Windsor prison this year they asked Commissioner Lisa Menard to come up with a plan for the facility. Menard issued that report this week.

Menard says inmates are currently being held past their minimum release dates at other correctional facilities around the state due to the lack of housing.

She says it might make sense to have all of those inmates at one facility to more efficiently offer services.

"What's being proposed here is secure transitional housing," she says. "It would be one step above community placement and one step below traditional incarceration."

 

The gates at Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor have been left open, as the state contemplates a use for the property.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / vpr

And the state might be able to save some money if inmates who have already served their time at other prisons are moved to Windsor; that would open beds to inmates who are currently serving their time outside of Vermont.

But Menard warns that her report is only a first step.

The report includes other ideas, such as moving the Corrections Academy from Lyndonville, or even demolishing the Windsor buildings and selling the site to a private developer.

Menard says much more work needs to be done before any action is taken.

"We want what is best for the state," Menard says. "I think that a number of ideas were submitted in the report that may make some sense and I think we'll probably be exploring many of those this legislative session."

Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh says he'll be paying close attention to those talks.

"This is now the item on the front burner," Marsh says.

Marsh says the town has been involved in the discussion over the future of the prison for the past three or four years.

Marsh read the report and says the town doesn't really have a specific hope for the site. He says Windsor just wants to make sure something happens to the prison up on the hill.

"We didn't want them to just look at this from a financial aspect," says Marsh. "We are worried that once the prison closes, that they will walk away and it won't be on anyone's radar screen. We really don't want that facility sitting there, being an attractive nuisance, with barbed wire, and buildings that are in disrepair with nobody paying attention to them. No good is going to come from that."

Menard's report will go the Joint Justice Oversight Committee. And until it figures out what to do, the Department of Buildings and General Services will button up the prison for the winter.

Correction 11/3/17 9:52 a.m. An earlier version of the story included a photo of prison superintendent Kat Tkaczyk. It has been removed.