This charming space, with its comfy chairs and natural lighting and complete absence of books, is either a prospective rendering of Vermont State University’s new “library” or a possible concept for a new women’s prison in Vermont.
Spoiler alert: it’s the latter. On Thursday morning, the House Corrections & Institutions Committee took the next small step toward building a new facility to replace the inadequate and unsanitary mess that is the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, a.k.a. Vermont’s women’s prison.
I say “small step” because, as the hearing revealed, it’s going to take — maybe — five to eight years to complete the process of designing, siting, and building a new facility. Or possibly longer. There could be roadblocks, and everything is dependent on a solid funding commitment. I’m sure the inmates can be patient about this.
The hearing centered on a presentation by HOK, an architectural firm that’s best known for building sports stadiums but has also designed more than $4 billion in what it euphemistically calls “justice facilities.” HOK’s Justice Division, so they say, “focuses on designs for human rights and a more just world as a whole.” By building prisons. (It received $1.5 million from the state for doing the research that led to Thursday’s presentation, which can be downloaded from the committee’s website.)
In the first phase of its study, commissioned in 2020, HOK unreservedly recommended closure of CRCF and replacement with a new facility. The state is committed to do so, but that’s about as far as it’s gotten. Veteran C&I Chair Alice Emmons said this year’s work will focus on finding a location for the new facility. “You don’t do nothin’ without land,” she said. The 2024 session will focus on moving from the concept-idea stage toward an architectural design. After that comes project bidding and selection, construction, and making the transition from CRCF to the new place.
There was no attempt to determine how large the new facility should be, but there was plenty of discussion on the subject that broke down into two camps: We’ve got to build it as big as it might possibly need to be, or we can take a less maximalist approach because we’ll continue on the path of justice reform because incarcerating large numbers of people is fundamentally inhumane and counterproductive.
Sorry, couldn’t resist.Continue reading