Lawmakers To Study Proposed 925-Bed Corrections Complex In Northwest Vermont
Key legislative leaders say a new proposal by the Scott Administration to build a multi-purpose 925-bed prison in Franklin County is an ambitious plan that deserves a comprehensive review.
One of the biggest questions about the plan is whether it should be financed using a public-private partnership.
Last year, lawmakers asked the Scott Administration to conduct a top to bottom evaluation of all of the state's correctional and mental health facilities.
On Monday, the Administration released its plan. It calls for the construction of up to eight "campus-type" facilities in Franklin County with a total capacity of 925-inmate beds. The cost of the project is roughly $150 million.
Springfield Rep. Alice Emmons is the chairwoman of the House Corrections and Institutions committee. She says the plan raises some important questions.
"We have to figure out if a centrally located facility for our offenders in conjunction with our regional facilities is the way to go or do we continue with just regional facilities?" — Rep. Alice Emmons
"We have to figure out if a centrally located facility for our offenders in conjunction with our regional facilities is the way to go or do we continue with just regional facilities? We don't have an answer to that yet," said Emmons.
Emmons says one benefit is that the state could bring back more than 200 inmates who are currently incarcerated out of state.
"We keep the money in state and also I think it's better for the offenders because they're here with other Vermont offenders they're used to the Vermont system and the families are closer to the inmate," said Emmons.
The administration is looking at a plan to have a private company actually build the facility and then lease it back to the state for 25 years. After this time period, the state would own it.
Senate Institutions chairwoman Peg Flory says she's encouraged by the initial proposal and she says it's important to understand that the operations of the facility would always remain in state control.
"It has never ever been in the cards that anyone other than the state would run it, and staff it." — Peg Flory
"A private-public partnership only to build the facility," said Flory. "It has never ever been in the cards that anyone other than the state would run it, and staff it."
And Flory says it would be very hard for the state to use its bonding authority to build the prison.
"Having significant capital dollars to build a new facility of the size that they're talking about is going to be difficult," said Flory.
One company potentially interested in entering into a public private partnership with the state is CoreCivic, formerly the Corrections Corporation of America. It owns 61 private facilities in the country.
Senate President Tim Ashe says he has serious concerns about this company.
"It will merit a lot of discussion, they're a notorious company so for the moment we have to think about whether there are actually any merits to a private lease arrangement that are for the long term," said Ashe.
Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille says there could be several other companies interested in partnering with the state on this project and he says this financing mechanism is sound.
"People have said that a private entity is going to build this and somehow that's bad I would challenge that," said Gobeille. "Public private partnerships are done around the globe they're done in all sectors transportation, higher education municipalities etc., they are a way to finance something."
Both the House and Senate Institutions committees will spend much of the next few weeks analyzing the Administration's plan.