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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Scott Administration Proposes $150 Million Correctional Campus For Northwest Vermont

Toby Talbot
Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence, seen here in 2013, will be replaced as part of this new proposal.

The administration of Gov. Phil Scott is proposing the construction of a campus-like corrections facility in Franklin County that would include 925 beds.

The proposal is part of a 10-year plan to better address the state's correctional and mental health needs. The price tag for the project is $150 million.

Last year, lawmakers asked the Agency of Human Services to develop a long-term plan to restructure and upgrade the agency's facilities throughout the state that provide a wide variety of correctional and mental health services.

AHS Secretary Al Gobeille says the plan is an effort to take a long-term look at how the state can best deliver these critical services.

"What are our facility needs today, and over time and so we said let's look at 10 years from now where we would want to be and work our way backwards instead of making moves today that are not part of a more well-thought out plan,” said Gobeille.

The plan calls for the creation of several facilities that would house 925 new beds at a single location in the northwestern part of the state.

"It's not one giant building — it's the idea that could you build a campus that would serve multiple different populations." — AHS Secretary Al Gobeille

It would include 457 beds for male inmates, 175 beds for female prisoners, 120 beds for federal offenders, 50 forensic beds and 25 beds for young offenders.

Under this approach, existing prisons in South Burlington and St. Albans would be closed and the state's Woodside juvenile facility would also be shut down. The Administration also hopes to reduce the number of Vermont inmates who are currently being sent out of state.

"It's not one giant building it's the idea that could you build a campus that would serve multiple different populations,” said Gobeille. “Could you build that campus over time and would Vermont be well served by that?" 

Gobeille says the state also needs to restructure the delivery of mental health services because the current system is putting enormous pressure on the emergency rooms of many hospitals.

"We have to do some things to get to a better place in mental health and that's what made us take a look at the 10 year vision." — AHS Secretary Al Gobeille

He says there are also concerns that federal funding for some facilities could be reduced in the coming years.

"Every single one of them is under a threat due to either financing or the actual facility itself and so we have to do some things to get to a better place in mental health and that's what made us take a look at the ten year vision,” said Gobeille. 

The plan also includes building a new and expanded facility at the site of an existing residential mental health facility in Middlesex, and creating additional psychiatric beds at a "designated hospital."

The projected cost for the entire project is $150 million and it would be financed using the state's bonding authority. Gobeille says it's an opportunity to offer better services for less money than is being spent today.

"It's a big number but when you compare it to the status quo it's actually less and I think the big number that I hope Vermonters understand is just what it costs to run these types of facilities over a 20 year period those are big numbers," said Gobeille. 

The proposed project will now be reviewed by both the House and Senate Institutions committees.

Correction 1/15/18 5:37 p.m. this story has been updated to correctly reflect the projected cost of construction for the project.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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