Scott to unveil plans for new Vermont prison

Published: Jan. 15, 2018 at 4:31 PM EST
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The Scott administration will begin presenting a plan to lawmakers this week for a 925-bed prison and mental health facility.

The plan is part of an Agency of Human Services report to the Legislature. Lawmakers called on the administration to come up with plans to help better serve certain populations in Vermont, including prisoners and those needing mental health treatment.

"It's not put out there to be provocative. It's put out there to say this is a real business examination and how do you feel about it?" said Al Gobeille, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services.

Gobeille created the forward-looking report that aims to address the state's mental health challenges. The proposal includes a multifaceted facility in Franklin County over the next 10 years. Prison beds account for most of the space-- 175 beds for women, 457 for men and 120 for federal prisoners. The campus would also have 50 mental health beds for patients with critical needs.

"Our proposal says, 'Hey, let's start doing something every couple of years so that we can get to this end vision,'" Gobeille said.

Without adding this facility, the state would spend $3.5 billion in the next 20 years. The report says the state could save $100 million by adding the new facility and closing prisons in St. Albans and South Burlington. A state-of-the-art facility for less money.

"I think that's really important and powerful and to be able to do that for less money is a good idea," Gobeille said.

Building the new prison and mental health facility would cost $160 million. A private company would pay for construction, and then lease it to the state for 20 years. When the lease ends, the state owns it.

"I wouldn't hang my hat on that number yet," Gobeille cautioned. "It's a really good estimate but without construction documents and all that stuff, it's still a hypothesis."

State employees would staff the space.

One key lawmaker isn't sold on the grand plan. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County, says any new Corrections facility should be for pretrial detainees but he agrees we need more mental health beds.

"I don't see as we've got much choice to move forward on a mental health project," Sears said. "We're at a crisis point."

The governor issued a statement to WCAX News. He says many of Vermont's existing correctional and mental health facilities face significant challenges. The report provides a roadmap for the state to address them.

As part of that 10-year plan, the Scott administration also wants to build two new mental health facilities.

The seven-bed facility in Middlesex was supposed to be temporary. It was slated to close two weeks ago. It was built after Tropical Storm Irene washed away the Vermont State Hospital.

Now, the state Human Service Agency has a plan to replace it with another facility with 16 beds somewhere in Central Vermont.

"We have seven folks that are there. I'd want to get a new facility and move the folks to it," Gobeille said.

There is also a plan to build a 12-bed facility in St. Albans at the Northwest Correctional Facility for the state's most mentally ill patients.

Those two facilities would cost $6 million. The administration plans to ask lawmakers for that money in the governor's budget.