DOC: State would need to export 100 inmates if Windsor prison is closed

Southeast State Correctional Facility

The Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor. Department of Corrections photo

If the Windsor prison is closed to help close the state budget gap, as many as 100 additional prisoners could be sent out of state, according to Andy Pallito, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Closing the Southeast State Correctional Facility, which is the oldest and smallest prison in the state, was suggested last week as part of a budget cutting proposal spearheaded by Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, that would close an $18.6 million budget shortfall. Shutting down the prison would save the state an estimated $820,000, according to the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office.

Under the proposal, all the prisoners at Windsor would be sent to out-of-state prisons, Pallito said. That outcome would undermine the Shumlin administration’s long-term plan to reduce the number of prisoners housed in out-of-state beds.

“This obviously would take that goal and push it further out,” he said.

The effort to bring Vermont inmates back to the state has had some successes, Pallito said. Earlier this year, the out-of-state population dipped below 400. As of this week, 340 Vermont prisoners are in out-of-state beds. Most are housed in Kentucky. A few dozen are in an Arizona jail.

The state’s contract with the Corrections Corp. of America is set to expire on June 30, 2015, and the state is finalizing negotiations for a new contract. The department is looking at two vendors, CCA and a different private company. Pallito expects to announce the contract in early April.

Lisa Menard, deputy commissioner of corrections, said contract negotiations would not be impacted if the Windsor facility is shut down. The Corrections request for proposals was for up to 600 out-of-state beds, she said.

Under the governor’s budget, Vermont facilities will house 60 federal prisoners from the U.S. Marshals service, for which the state would be paid $129 per prisoner per day.

Andy Pallito

Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito. Photo by Amy Ash Nixon/VTDigger

The proposal to close Windsor prison is still in an early phase, Pallito noted. “There are many moving parts at this point,” he said in an email statement Wednesday night.

Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, a member of the House Appropriations Committee who oversees the DOC parts budget, sees the proposal to close Windsor as an opportunity to improve services for inmates as they leave the system.

“Let’s prepare to put together a suite of services that enables people to exit facilities successfully,” Hooper said to her committee members on Wednesday.

Under Hooper’s proposal, the prison would be closed in 2017 — so there would not be any immediate savings for the budget House Appropriations lawmakers are working on now.

Hooper suggests using $1 million in savings from the declining out-of-state prison population toward setting up new transitional housing and providing funds to help people get their feet on the ground as they leave the system.

Hooper cited community justice centers, as well as the Collaborative Systems Integration Project (CSIP), run by Washington County Mental Health Services as programs that would be important in providing transitional services for inmates.

There are more than 200 prisoners in Vermont that have served their minimum sentences but continue to live in prisons because they do not have adequate housing. The state could reduce pressure on the corrections system if it provided more housing for prisoners who have finished their sentences, Hooper said.

According to Pallito, many of the people who have difficulty transitioning from prison to community life have been convicted of a violent or sexual offense, and are at a high risk to reoffend.

“I don’t think there’s any way that we can responsibly say, ‘Let’s just let them out,’” Pallito said.

The DOC recently opened a 20-bed transitional housing facility in Rutland, Pallito said. That process took nearly two years to complete.

Tom Marsh, town manager of Windsor, said the town receives many benefits from hosting the prison.

“There isn’t really the stigma attached to that prison that you may find elsewhere,” Marsh said.

The prison property is more than 900 acres in total, with almost all of it open to public use for recreation.

Work crews from the prison help the town with snow shoveling in the winter, and they take care of mowing and maintaining the local cemetery. They recently painted the interior of the local police department. Marsh’s biggest concern, he said, is that the facility would be left vacant if the prison closed.

“We certainly wouldn’t benefit from them leaving,” Marsh said.

If the prison closes, it would mean the loss of more than 50 jobs, Pallito said.

The Vermont State Employees Association has raised concerns about the potential closure.

“Closing the Windsor facility is a stupid idea, plain and simple,” Dave Bellini, chair of VSEA’s corrections unit said in an email statement last week. “The State is already being pressured by several groups to bring hundreds of Vermont inmates back home from the private prisons in Kentucky and Arizona.”

Suzi Wizowaty, of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, strongly objects to the proposal to send more Vermont prisoners out of state.

“It would not be difficult to find 100 inmates currently incarcerated who don’t need to be,” Wizowaty said in an email statement Wednesday.

Elizabeth Hewitt

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  • Dave Bellini

    The Vermont Democratic Party:

    1. Exporting jobs and tax dollars.
    2. Embracing privatization of state jobs.
    3. Working to close the Vets home.
    4. Closing 911 call centers.
    5. Hostile to organized labor.

    And most of all…protector of the wealthy.

    Call out to union members to vote Progressive or Republican in 2016. Anybody got any Scott-16 lawn signs yet?

  • Fred Woogmaster

    Sending Vermont prisoners to private, distant, prisons continues to be horrible public policy – no matter what.

    The real cost, future cost, will be borne by the children of today.

    Savings?

    • John MacGovern

      You are right, Fred, to ask about the savings. $820,000? Where did they get that number? The employees will continue to work; the prisoners will continue to be housed and fed. There are better ways to find $820,000. How about starting with putting a halt to building new water tanks? Just last year the State spent close to $800,000 building new water tanks overlooking the Windsor prison. Who has oversight of that? Rep. Hooper???

  • Rep. Hooper’s proposal is the most sensible criminal justice initiative discussed in the State House in years. How does one square the comments of the Windsor town manager that having the correctional facility in his town as a major asset with the commissioner’s statement that it would be irresponsible to release over 200 inmates who have passed their minimum sentences but lack DOC “approved” housing? The benefits of returning low-risk inmates presently in Windsor to their communities far outweigh continuing the status quo supporting the prison-industrial complex. The only persons who benefit from shipping Vermonters to far away private prisons are the shareholders of Corrections Corporation of America and their ilk—certainly not Vermont taxpayers. This practice of shipping inmates to private prisons is in direct conflict with DOC’s statutory purposes to rehabilitate those who have violated the law and restore communities.

  • Tom Cecere

    Robert, you forgot the main beneficiaries of shipping our prisoners out of state…the management team of CCA. Their CEO pulled in $3.2M last year alone.

  • Stuart Friedman

    There are additional costs associated with shipping prisoners out of state, including the impact it has on the children of the offenders. At a tine when we tout the benefits of the two parent family, it seems absurd to destroy the family structure with this ill-conceived idea.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    Under Vermont’s lame, catch-and-release criminal justice system, one needs to make a pretty solid effort to do something that lands them in the slammer. Those who come here from out of state to peddle addictive drugs have no family ties to the area and should be the first to be sent to the remote locations where they may feel right at home. The family situation of those few Vermonters who are sentenced to prison should really have no bearing on where they do their time. This should be a fiscal or punitive concern only, with the troublemakers being the first to go. As far as violent offenders go, incarceration is not intended to be a summer camp. It should be considered CONFINEMENT for the purposes of keeping dangerous offenders from harming the general public. How they spend their time there will determine if there is any “corrections” value. Stop treating the violent offenders as victims, they are PERPETRATORS and the working taxpayers of Vermont owe them little beyond three hots and a cot. Whatever it costs to keep a violent thug locked up is worth every penny. Those who advocate for reducing our inmate population should step up and offer them housing and an opportunity to better themselves by babysitting their kids.

    • walter moses

      Thanks, Rich, I believe this is the position most vermonters approve.

  • William Hays

    We have ‘beds’ available at our CCA facility in Shelby, MT. Welcome, Woodchucks! Yes, you can see the mountains, with year-round snow, from the exercise yard. We even have sweat lodges, on campus, the Abenakis can use. Amtrak service for visitors, too.

  • Pat McGarry

    Judge Toor already held that holding Vermont inmates out of state is unconstitutional.

    http://vtdigger.wpengine.com/2014/11/14/shipping-male-inmates-state-unconstitutional-judge-rules/

    At some point, other out of state inmates are going to sue on that basis, and the question will have to be decided by the Vermont Supreme Court.

  • Ed Letourneau

    How about we bring back the chain-gang and just get some work out of them, instead of paying to keep them isolated?

    • Pat McGarry

      Ed-

      Google “McGarry v. Pallito”

      Vermont DOC didn’t know that they couldn’t “rehabilitate” those who haven’t been convicted.

    • William Hays

      Pat – Chain gangs are ‘labor intensive’, especially for unionized, state-employed guards. The Progressives should like that.

  • sandra bettis

    Not only did they privatize the prisons but they also privatized the phone system too – this means that parents can’t even afford to call their kids.

  • Barry Kade

    With all these comments, I’m surprised no one has pointed out that the Windsor inmates get an additional day of good time for each day they serve under “work camp” status. That must have a very significant effect on the finances, likely evaporating all of the supposed $820,000 in savings.

  • Cyndi Marie

    I believe I read that CCA (currently under contract to house prisoners out of state)made campaign donations to Shumlin and most likely others as well. Payback time.

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