(Host) Vermont officials remain hopeful they’ll find a host community for a state-run prison work camp by the end of the year.
Earlier this month, Swanton voters rejected the work camp, but they’ll be asked to vote on it again in November.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports:
(Zind) Six Vermont communities have expressed some interest in hosting a work camp and David Peebles of the Department of Corrections says they’ve all had lots of questions.
(Peebles) “I think the reception has been, as you would imagine, been guarded. I mean, when you’re considering your new neighbors, probably on the list most of us have, a work camp or something to do with corrections is not usually the first thing that comes up on your screen.”
(Zind) Peebles says the biggest concern is public safety.
State officials stress that the work camp is for non-violent offenders. The time they spend in the camp reduces their sentences.
Currently, the state’s only work camp is in St. Johnsbury. A new one could accommodate about 100 inmates who are currently housed out of state.
Peebles says the work camp also helps prisoners transition back to community life.
The advantages for towns include 46 jobs, a payroll of over two million dollars and the opportunity to have the work crews perform community service projects in the area.
After listening to the Department of Corrections presentation and glowing reviews from St. Johnsbury officials about the work camp there, on primary election day Swanton voters rejected the proposal by a 53 vote margin.
Swanton Town Administrator Richard Thompson says because of the close vote, they’ll be asked to weigh in again in the November general election.
(Thompson) “We know one thing – that we’ll get a much bigger turnout for the general election than we do for the primary. The thought is that we’ll probably get a better representative view of the citizens and the voters by doing it again.”
(Zind) Thompson says one concern raised by opponents of the work camp reflects the long memory of some local voters. Years ago the state converted a minimum-security juvenile facility into a high security prison in nearby St. Albans. State officials have reassured them that won’t happen with the work camp.
David Peebles of the Department of Corrections says the decision is in the hands of Swanton voters, but the town would be an ideal site.
(Peebles) “Swanton, just based on where it’s located, the availability of the workforce and everything else would be an ideal site.”
(Zind) Peebles says the work camp proposal is still on the table in Randolph, Northfield, Wolcott, Springfield and Fair Haven, but it appears those towns are waiting to see what Swanton voters finally decide.
The state wants to finalize a site by January so the legislature can budget for its construction.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.