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On the Chopping Block 2013: State Prison Closures

January 29, 2014
This briefing paper documents state prison closures and attributes the trend to declining state prison populations, fiscal constraints, and sentencing and parole reforms.

During 2013, at least six states closed 20 correctional facilities or contemplated doing so, potentially reducing prison capacity by 11,370 beds and resulting in estimated five-year cost savings of over $229 million. Since 2011, at least 17 states have reduced prison capacity totaling over 35,000 beds. But in contrast to this trend, some states announced in 2013 that they may open new correctional facilities or reopen facilities that had previously been shuttered.

Opportunity for Closures

The continued trend of prison closures was led by North Carolina in 2013; officials reduced correctional capacity by 1,986 beds and estimated the reduction would result in $40 million in cost savings. Other states that closed prisons include Georgia, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. Declines in state prison populations have created an opportunity to downsize prison bed space for a range of reasons, including excess capacity and the management of older facilities. The U.S. prison population numbered 1.5 million at yearend 2012 – a reduction of 1.7 percent since 2011, and the third year that the nation’s prison population had declined.1)Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2013). Prisoners in 2012: Advance Counts. Washington, D.C.

Since 2004, The Sentencing Project has documented changes in policy and practice undertaken by lawmakers to address growth in state prison populations. Legislative and administrative reforms have included scaling back mandatory sentencing laws, increasing parole release rates, and authorizing earned release from community supervision. In 2013, at least three states – Kansas, Oregon, and South Dakota – authorized earned discharge for persons who successfully comply with the conditions of their parole supervision. Colorado lawmakers also authorized alternatives to incarceration for persons convicted of certain felony drug offenses. In addition to changes impacting the adult prison population, significant reforms have impacted juvenile corrections, resulting in a nearly 40 percent decline in the number of incarcerated youth since 2000.2)Staff (2013). “The Comeback States: Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States.” National Juvenile Justice Network and Texas Public Policy Foundation. Recently, Nebraska enacted comprehensive juvenile justice measures that expanded alternatives to detention.

Reforms in State Sentencing Practices in 2013

State officials continue to modify sentencing policy in an attempt to address correctional populations. At least 31 states adopted 46 criminal justice reforms to potentially reduce state prison populations in 2013. Georgia authorized judges, in some circumstances, to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses.3)Georgia House Bill 349 (2013).

The U.S. prison population numbered 1.5 million at yearend 2012 — a reduction of 1.7 percent since 2011.

In recent years, changes in California have contributed to the most significant declines in state prison populations. In 2009, a three-judge special panel ruled that widespread overcrowding in California prisons was unconstitutional and resulted in “cruel and unusual punishment.” The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling in 2011 and ordered the state to address capacity issues. Under the state’s Realignment policy, thousands of individuals convicted of non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual felony offenses have been sentenced to county jails rather than state prisons.

States Closing or Considering Closing Correctional Facilities in 2013
State Correctional Facility Operational Capacity/Bed Reduction Est. First Year Savings
Georgia Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center4)Kirkham, Chris. “Georgia To Close Private Prison Where Youth Alleged Sexual Misconduct.” The Huffington Post. October 31, 2013. 100 $6,000,000
Kentucky Marion Adjustment Center5)Edwards, Ruth. Internal Policy Analyst, Kentucky Department of Corrections. (Personal communication, November 13, 2013). 826 $1,500,000
New York Beacon Correctional Facility6)Harding, Robert. “Cuomo calls for closure of two prisons; central New York facilities not affected,” The Auburn Citizen. January 22, 2013. 201 $8,165,000
New York Bayview Correctional Facility7)Harding, Robert. “Cuomo calls for closure of two prisons; central New York facilities not affected,” The Auburn Citizen January 22, 2013. 225 $12,080,000
North Carolina Buncombe Juvenile Detention Center8)Acree, Keith. Communications Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (Personal communication, September 23, 2013). 14 $1,200,000
North Carolina Duplin Correctional Center9)Acree, Keith. Communications Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (Personal communication, September 23, 2013). 328 $4,100,000
North Carolina Robeson Correctional Center10)Acree, Keith. Communications Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (Personal communication, September 23, 2013). 276 $3,900,000
North Carolina Wayne Correctional Center11)Acree, Keith. Communications Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (Personal communication, September 23, 2013). 428 $7,200,000
North Carolina Bladen Correctional Center12)Acree, Keith. Communications Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (Personal communication, September 23, 2013). 172 $2,500,000
North Carolina Western Youth Institution13)Acree, Keith. Communications Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (Personal communication, September 23, 2013). 708 $16,300,000
North Carolina Richmond Regional Juvenile Detention Center14)Acree, Keith. Communications Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (Personal communication, September 23, 2013). 30 $2,000,000
North Carolina Lenoir Youth Development Center15)Acree, Keith. Communications Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (Personal communication, September 23, 2013). 30 $3,700,000
Pennsylvania Cresson State Correctional Institution16)Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. (Personal communication, September 24, 2013). 1,400 $23,000,000 (includes two prisons)
Pennsylvania Greensburg State Correctional Institution17)Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. (Personal communication, September 24, 2013). 988
Texas Dawson State Jail18)Douglas, Aspen. Open Records Coordinator, Business and Finance, Texas Department of Criminal Justice. (Personal communications, October 9, 2013).,19)Frezia-Nash, Alicia. Open Records Act Coordinator, Executive Services, Texas Department of Criminal Justice. (Personal communications, October 1, 2013). 2,216 $43,129,551
Texas Mineral Wells Correctional Facility20)Douglas, Aspen. Open Records Coordinator, Business and Finance, Texas Department of Criminal Justice. (Personal communications, October 9, 2013).,21)Frezia-Nash, Alicia. Open Records Act Coordinator, Executive Services, Texas Department of Criminal Justice. (personal communications, October 1, 2013). 2,100 $54,173,231
 Total Beds and Projected Savings  10,042 $188,947,782

Shifting Dynamics on Prison Closures

Lawmakers proposing prison closures have sometimes attracted significant opposition. Over the last few years, several prisons have closed in New York and additional closures are expected for 2014. The reduction in capacity has drawn opposition from local political and labor interests concerned about the loss of jobs and economic consequences, often in rural areas.22)Willard, Lucas. “Lawmakers, Union Hope to Prevent Closure of Saratoga County Prison.” WAMC Public Northeast Radio. In New York, lawmakers announced plans to introduce legislation to require the legislature to debate and vote on any prison closures.23)Statement by Assemblyman Jim Tedisco on September 24, 2013. The move would shift the dynamics in New York away from the governor’s office, which has shouldered the political risks of closures in recent years. A similar climate has impacted the closure conversation in Pennsylvania.24)Staff, “Lawmakers: Cresson Prison to Close.” The Altoona Mirror, January 9, 2013.

Repurposing Prisons

Prison closures offer a challenge to communities that have relied on correctional facilities as an economic strategy. As officials have undertaken efforts to downscale prison capacity, addressing the potential community impact is a salient concern. Illinois lawmakers recently considered a proposal offering tax breaks to companies taking over closed state facilities, including prisons. The measure would allow private investors to receive a state income tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of refurbishing a former state facility.25)Erickson, Kurt. “Proposal aims to help shuttered stated facilities.” Pantagraph.com. November 10, 2013.

In a few states, including Texas and New York, there are plans to sell closed prisons for non-correctional uses. For example, Texas’s shuttered Dawson State Jail has created an opportunity for the Trinity River Corridor Project, a redevelopment effort. The project involves a 20-mile span of urban development that would include the current Dawson State Jail site, with plans for houses, waterfront condominiums, and shops and restaurants.26)Grisson, Brandi. “In Two Cities, Opposite Reactions to the Closing of State Jails.” The New York Times. August 1, 2013. In New York, officials sold Camp Georgetown, a minimum security prison closed in 2011, for more than $240,000 in 2013.27)Karlin, Rick. “Empty upstate prison is sold.” Times Union. May 9, 2013. The prison was bought by a wealthy investor with plans to repurpose it into a summer science and technology camp for high school students.28)Teri Weaver “New Camp Georgetown owner wants to open summer science camp there.” The Post Standard. May 13, 2013. In addition, the closure of the Bayview Correctional Facility in Manhattan may lead to a repurposing of the closed facility. The prison is surrounded by upscale restaurants, luxury condos, and high-end shops and is considered desirable real estate.29)Staff, “New York City hotspot for sale: A Sandy-damaged former women’s prison.” Associated Press in The Patriot News Central PA. October 19, 2013.

Openings and Expansion

Although many states have been closing prisons in recent years, some states have continued to open new correctional facilities. In Pennsylvania, construction has begun on a $400 million prison project in Skippack Township. The prisons – Phoenix East and Phoenix West – will have a combined capacity of 4,000 beds. There are also plans to build a new 200-bed facility to hold women transitioning back to the community at the end of their prison term.30)Idaho Senate Bill 1151 (2013).

In California, officials opened a new prison that holds more than 1,700 inmates. The California Health Facility in Stockton reportedly cost $839 million to construct and is designed to address the medical and mental health needs of incarcerated persons. The state opened this prison while accounting for the largest share in population declines in 2012. During a 2013 press conference, Governor Jerry Brown estimated that the prison expansion plan would cost $315 million in the short term and total $715 million by 2015.31)Staff (2013). “California Governor requests more time to reduce prison overcrowding.” World News Views. Additionally, to deal with continued overcrowding, Governor Brown has proposed sending approximately 12,000 incarcerated persons to private prisons out of state.

Other states – Maine, New Hampshire, and Washington – are also exploring building new prisons. In Maine, officials are reportedly assessing whether a new, more efficient prison at a cost of $100 million would be a good use of taxpayer resources. The proposed construction would replace the current prison at the site of the Maine Correctional Center and erect a new correctional facility in its place.32)Hartill, Daniel. “Planned $100 million prison in Windham Controversial.” The Bangor Daily News. September 2, 2013. In New Hampshire, the state’s Executive Council recently approved a $2.4 million contract to build a new women’s prison. The current New Hampshire State Prison for Women has been the subject of litigation; four incarcerated women filed a lawsuit claiming that the state does not provide female inmates with services and programs comparable to those for incarcerated men.33)Authur, Audrey. “SMRT Inc. Selected to Design New Hampshire Women’s Prison.” Correctional News. September 25,2013.

Officials in Washington state have begun discussing expanding prison capacity despite closing the McNeil Island Corrections Center in 2011. Prison administrators claim that overcrowded conditions in women’s facilities are posing risks for increased violence. Recent overcrowding follows a period of modest population decline that led the state to close three prisons in recent years in an effort to reduce correctional expenditures.34)Staff (2013). “Washington State Prisons Seek Expansion Funding.” Correctional News.

Reopening previously shuttered prisons is also being proposed by some state officials. In 2013, Florida lawmakers discussed plans to reopen closed prisons because of projected growth in the prison population. Corrections officials submitted an appropriations request to the Legislature for $59 million to open nine closed prisons. The request was met by some resistance from fiscally conservative lawmakers, and the discussion may lead to an opportunity to modify sentencing policies.35)Georgia House Bill 349 (2013). Lawmakers closed 10 prisons in 2012 and projected an estimated $65 million in cost savings due to the closures.36)Porter, Nicole D. (2012). “On the Chopping Block 2012: State Prison Closings.” Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project.

Rethinking the Use of Incarceration

While trends since 2011 may indicate that state officials are growing more comfortable closing correctional facilities, closure efforts continue to generate political opposition. Continued efforts to shutter prisons should also include intentional discussion of ways to reuse correctional facilities for non-carceral purposes. And, as encouraging as these discussions may be, the needs of high-incarceration communities should also be considered as stakeholders prioritize state resources to maintain public safety.

Appendix: States Closing or Considering Closing Correctional Facilities in 2011-2013a
State Correctional Facility Operational Capacity/Bed Reduction Yearb
Colorado Colorado State Penitentiary II 316 2012
Colorado Fort Lyon Correctional Facility 500 2011
Connecticut Bergin Correctional Institution 603 2011
Connecticut Enfield Correctional Institution 724 2011
Connecticut J.B. Gates Correctional Institution 878 2011
Florida Brevard Correctional Facility 929 2011
Florida Broward Correctional Institution 611 2012
Florida Caryville Work Camp 133 2012
Florida Demily Correctional Institution 342 2012
Florida Gainesville Correctional Institution 507 2012
Florida Hendry Work Camp 280 2012
Florida Hillsborough Correctional Institution 431 2011
Florida Indian River Correctional Institution 381 2012
Florida Levy Forestry Camp 292  2012
Florida New River Correctional Institution 1,363 2012
Florida River Junction Work Camp 736 2012
Florida Tallahassee Road prison 82 2011
Georgia Blakely Regional Youth Detention Center 30 2011
Georgia Griffin Regional Youth Detention Center 30 2011
Georgia Metro State Prison 779 2011
Georgia Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center 100 2013
Illinois Dwight Correctional Center 1,212 2012
Illinois Joliet Renaissance Center – Youth Center 344 2012
Illinois Murphysboro Youth Prison 156 2012
Illinois Tamms Super Maximum Security Correctional Center 700 2012
Kentucky Marion Adjustment Center 826 2013
Kentucky Otter Creek Correctional Center 656 2012
Louisiana C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center 942 2012
Louisiana Forcht-Wade Correctional Center 498 2012
Louisiana J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center 300 2012
Michigan Florence Crane Correctional Facility 1,056 2011
Nevada Nevada State Prison 841 2011
New York Arthur Kill Medium Security Prison 900 2011
New York Beacon Correctional Facility 201 2013
New York Bayview Correctional Facility 229 2013
New York Buffalo Work Release 132 2011
New York Camp Georgetown 262 2011
New York Fulton Work Release 258 2011
New York Summit Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility 121 2011
New York Oneida Medium Correctional Facility 998 2011
New York Mid-Orange Correctional Facility 736 2011
North Carolina Bladen Correctional Center 172 2013
North Carolina Buncombe Juvenile Detention Center 14 2013
North Carolina Cabarrus Correctional Facility 198 2011
North Carolina Duplin Correctional Center 328 2013
North Carolina Lenoir Youth Development Center 30 2013
North Carolina Richmond Regional Juvenile Detention Center 30 2013
North Carolina Robeson Correctional Center 276 2013
North Carolina Wayne Correctional Center 428 2013
North Carolina Western Youth Institution 708 2013
Oregon Hillcrest Units (Chi and Kappa) 50 2011
Oregon MacLaren Units (Dunbard, Kincaid and McBride) 75 2011
Oregon Oak Creek Unit (Young Women’s Transition Program) 25 2011
Oregon Oregon State Penitentiary – Minimum Security 176 2011
Pennsylvania Cresson State Correctional Institution 1,400 2013
Pennsylvania Greensburg State Correctional Institution 988 2013
Rhode Island Donald Price Medium Security Facility 324 2011
Texas Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility 248 2011
Texas Central Unit 1,000 2011
Texas Crockett State School 232 2011
Texas Dawson State Jail 2,216 2013
Texas Mineral Wells Facility37)Mineral Wells is a privately run facility owned and managed by the Corrections Corporation of America.  During 2011, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reduced the contract by 500 beds. During 2013, state officials ended the contract for the 2,100 beds at the private prison. 2,100 2011/ 2013
Texas Ron Jackson Juvenile Correctional Complex Unit II 113 2011
Texas TDCJ – Burnett County Jail 240 2011
Washington McNeil Island Corrections Center 1,200 2011
Wisconsin Ethan Allen School 167 2011
Wisconsin Southern Oaks Girls School 18 2011
 Total Beds 34,171
a This list reflects an up-to-date analysis of closed or recently closed correctional facilities.
b This was the year the closure first announced.  The actual closure date may be in subsequent years.
 

Footnotes   [ + ]

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