(Host) Because the state’s prisons are so overcrowded, about 430 Vermonters are doing jail time out of state. A new prison now under construction in Springfield was supposed to address some of the crowding problem. But officials are now worried that the state won’t have enough money to operate the prison once it’s finished next year.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) The Springfield jail will hold 350 inmates and will cost $26 million to build. But that doesn’t include what the state has to spend to operate the new facility. With Vermont facing a $30 million deficit, there’s some concern that the Corrections Department won’t be able to open the new facility once the construction work is finished in August 2003.
Essex-Orleans Republican Senator Vince Illuzzi chairs the legislative committee that oversees the prison project. He says it will cost $3-4 million a year just to cover staff salaries in Springfield. So Illuzzi’s worried the new prison may not open until the state’s fiscal health improves.
(Illuzzi) “So I think the construction will be completed on schedule but finding the operational funds to move forward is the question. And no one knows when we’ll be able to open the facility. I might add that the phenomenon is not unusual. Other states have found themselves in the same situation.”
(Dillon) Many southern states run prisons for less money. So it’s actually cheaper to send Vermont prisoners to Virginia than to incarcerate them here.
Corrections Commissioner John Gorcyk says Vermont spends about $27,000 a year per inmate. He says the state will have to spend $4 million more each year to keep the inmates in Vermont than to send them to Virginia. He says that money may be hard to find in a state budget that’s already tight.
(Gorcyk) “Until we see some parameters on what the Department’s spending can look like in 2004, it’s really hard to know whether or not or when exactly Springfield can come online operationally.”
(Dillon) Gorcyk says that while it costs more to run the Vermont jail, there are many other advantages to having the prisoners in their home state. The Springfield prison will create jobs, and the prisoners will be closer to their families.
(Gorcyk) “It’s such a desirable goal for so many reasons to have Vermonters who have been adjudicated in Vermont to be housed in Vermont. It just makes sense for a multitude of reasons. So that if we have the capacity, I expect that we’ll use it. But exactly what that timing will be depends on the availability of the money to operationalize it.”
(Dillon) According to Gorcyk, the decision on opening the Springfield prison depends on the state’s 2004 fiscal year budget, which will be set by the Legislature early in 2003.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.