Prison closure has Windsor residents weighing options

WINDSOR, Vt. (WCAX) The closing of the Windsor prison may be a sure thing, but the future of the 100-acre complex is anything but certain.

It costs the state of Vermont more than $80,000 a head to house inmates at the Windsor prison every year, making it the most expensive facility in the state, largely due to its age. And because of that, under a mandate by the Vermont Legislature, the Southeast State Correctional Facility is shutting down.

"Our primary concern all along is to understand what could happen to the facility if it were to close, so it is not just mothballed and left unattended," said Tom Marsh, Windsor's town manager.

About 60 employees work at the prison. The Department of Corrections has already begun the process of finding them new jobs at other facilities.

"Staff at the Windsor facility will have available options to them within the Department of Corrections," said Vermont Dept. of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Mike Touchette.

The prison has been in Windsor for decades. Corrections staff members live in the area and shop at local businesses. Diane Epstein owns a flower shop on Main Street.

"There is a bit of concern where all those employees are going to be going," she said.

It's a concern shared by town officials, who will also take on added costs for some municipal operations.

"Certainly the prison work crews that mow our cemeteries and ball fields, and things like that. We pay $55 a day for a staff of eight," Marsh said.

But the biggest concern for Marsh is what happens to the buildings and the 100 acres of land they sit on. "And the easy path could say, it's not in our backyard, it is closed, let's walk away," he said.

As the inmate population slowly decreases-- it's now about half capacity-- corrections officials are working on a repurposing plan for the facility. Transitional housing is one possibility.

"The report will be submitted in November, shortly after the facility closes," Touchette said.

Epstein says she would like a different use altogether. "Some sort of community college where people are coming and going all the time would be nice," she said.

Marsh says there is a lot of potential. "There has been millions of dollars in investment in greenhouses, solar panels, a new water tower," he said.

Town officials say they just want a voice in the process to advocate for the future reuse of the facility, and the pristine land that surrounds it.