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Repurposing - New Beginnings for Closed Prisons

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS

Repurposing: New Beginnings for
Closed Prisons
Since 2011, at least 22 states have closed or announced closures for 94 state
prisons and juvenile facilities, resulting in the elimination of over 48,000 state prison
beds1 and an estimated cost savings of over $345 million.2 The opportunity to
downsize prison bed space has been brought about by declines in state prison populations as well as increasing challenges of managing older facilities. Reduced
capacity has created the opportunity to repurpose closed prisons for a range of
uses outside of the correctional system, including a movie studio, a distillery, and
urban redevelopment.
The U.S. prison population numbered 1,508,636 at
yearend 2014 – a reduction of approximately 1%
since 2013. Thirty-nine states have experienced a
decline since reaching their peak prison populations
within the past 15 years; in most states this reduction has been relatively modest. Four states – New
Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and California –
have reduced their prison populations by over 20%.
Southern states like Mississippi and South Carolina have reduced their prison populations by 18%
and 11% respectively.3 The political environment
shaping criminal justice policy has been moving in
a direction emphasizing evidence-based approaches to public safety for more than a decade. This
has involved efforts to address the unprecedented
growth and correctional costs resulting from several
decades of policy initiatives.
In recent years, 29 states adopted reforms that
scaled back the scope and severity of their mandatory sentencing policies.4 Voters in California
approved ballot initiatives in 2012 and 2016; the
former curbed the state’s notoriously broad “three
strikes and you’re out” law and the latter expanded
parole eligibility and limits the process governing
juveniles tried as adults. California and Oklahoma
voters also authorized reclassifying certain felonies
as misdemeanors. In other states, policymakers
have become increasingly supportive of initiatives
that reduce parole revocations, establish treatment
courts, and divert prison bound defendants through
alternatives to incarceration.

OPPORTUNITY FOR CLOSURE
Declines in state prison populations and the shifting politics underlying incarceration have created
an opportunity to downsize prison bed space for a
range of reasons, including excess capacity and the
challenge of managing older facilities.

UNDERLYING CAUSES OF STATE
RATES OF IMPRISONMENT
The previous 40 years of growth of the penal system
increased rates of incarceration have resulted from
changes in policy and practice intent upon increasing the severity of sanctions for criminal offending.
The punitive nature of these criminal justice policies
was influenced by social, political, economic and institutional forces that helped to explain why elected
officials and prosecutors successfully pursued such
initiatives.
Several factors made the United States vulnerable
to the politicization of criminal justice policies.
These included social and political unrest in the
1960s; a major electoral realignment as the Democratic Party divided over civil rights and other issues
and as the Republican Party became competitive
in the South for the first time since Reconstruction;
rising crime rates beginning in the mid-1960s; and
major transformations in urban economies that
included the disappearance of many well-paid jobs

The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS
States with Closures and Pending Closures of Correctional Facilities 2011-2016

States closing or considering
prison closures

for low skilled workers. Distinct characteristics of
U.S. society deepened the politicization of criminal justice policy. These included the election and
partisan political appointment of judges and prosecutors, a winner-take-all two-party electoral system,
and the use of state ballot initiatives and referenda
as a mechanism for policy change.5
While rising crime rates in the early years of prison
building contributed in part to increasing rates of
imprisonment, it is only by understanding those
trends in their social, political, institutional and
historical context that it is clear the nation’s prison
population increase was not primarily due to rising crime. While most other Western democracies
also experienced rising crime rates beginning in
the 1960s, none embarked on a prison expansion
program remotely like that of the U.S.

PRISON REPURPOSING PROJECTS
Prison closures offer a challenge to officials and the
communities that are impacted, particularly in rural
areas with limited employment opportunities. In recent years, entrepreneurs, elected officials and community leaders in a handful of states have reimagined sites that once incarcerated prisoners for new
uses. In Manhattan, the Osborne Association, a nonprofit organization, is working to convert a closed
women’s prison into a space that provides services
to women leaving incarceration. An entrepreneur in
California purchased a closed correctional facility
and plans to repurpose it as a medical marijuana
cultivation center. At least four states – Missouri,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – have converted closed prisons into tourist destinations open
to visitors and host Halloween events.6

The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS
Other new purposes for closed prisons include a
small farm incubator, homeless shelter, museum
and special events venue, and a distillery.

BRUSHY MOUNTAIN STATE PENITENTIARY
(TENNESSEE, MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON):
DISTILLERY AND TOURIST ATTRACTION

ARTHUR KILL CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
(NEW YORK, MEDIUM SECURITY PRISON):
MOVIE STUDIO

Tennessee opened the maximum security prison
in 1896 in the remote, southern part of the Appalachian Plateau. The prison had a capacity of 584 and
was used as the state’s reception/classification and
diagnostic center before closing in 2009.

Opened in 1976, the prison housed 931 male inmates and closed in 2011. The former prison sits
on 69 acres of waterfront property along Staten
Island’s West Shore and is surrounded by commercial, recreational, and industrial properties. The site
was previously operated by the state’s Office of
Drug Abuse Services as a drug rehabilitation center
prior to its transfer to the New York Department of
Correctional Services.7
The Empire State Development agency announced
in early 2014 that Brooklyn’s Broadway Stages
planned to buy the facility for use as a movie studio.
The studio purchased the prison for $7 million and
plans to invest at least $20 million. Expectations for
the project include the creation of 800 jobs over a
two-year period with as many as 1,500 over the next
five years.

BAYVIEW CORRECTIONAL FACILITY (NEW
YORK, MEDIUM SECURITY PRISON):
REENTRY CENTER
First established in Manhattan in 1931 as the Seaman’s House Y.M.C.A., a place for merchant sailors
to stay while their ships were docked at the nearby
Chelsea Piers it later became a state-run drug treatment center in 1967. The state converted the center
to a prison in the early 1970s following an increase
in New York’s prison population due in part to a
change in policy that required lengthy prison terms
for prison bound drug defendants.
The NoVo Foundation, a private foundation in collaboration with the women’s real-estate development
company the Goren Group, will convert the closed
prison to an office building known as the Women’s
Building. Officials plan to contract out with nonprofit organizations that provide services to women. The
building’s development team is also collaborating
with groups like the Coalition for Women Prisoners and the Women and Justice Project to involve
formerly incarcerated women in the prison’s repurposing. Plans for the prison’s redevelopment include
landscaped areas and an art gallery that may double
as an event space.

Efforts are underway to repurpose the closed prison into a distillery and tourist attraction. Brushy
Mountain Group, a private developer entity, approached the local economic development council
and county officials to discuss plans for the prison’s
reuse. Voters approved the prison’s conversion by
a 2-1 margin in a referendum during the 2013 local
election cycle. The private consortium has moved to
transform the site into a tourist attraction, including
a “moonshine” distillery, restaurant, horse trails, and
campgrounds.

DAWSON STATE JAIL (TEXAS, MEDIUM
SECURITY PRISON):
URBAN REDEVELOPMENT
Opened in 1997, the Dawson State Jail (DSJ) was a
co-gender facility with a capacity of over 2,200 beds
located near Dallas. Reports of inadequate medical
care, including multiple inmate deaths, and unsafe
staffing levels at the facility led a coalition of state
and national groups to mobilize in support of the
prison’s closing. Texas state lawmakers in 2013
decided not to renew the contract for the prison
operated by the for-profit CoreCivic (Corrections
Corporation for America), but owned by the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice. DSJ was located in
an area targeted for economic development; modest
declines in the state’s prison population resulted in
shuttering the prison rather than a transfer to public
control. The prison was a co-gender facility with a
capacity of over 2,200 beds. The closure of the DSJ
was supported by local officials.
The closed prison opened up an opportunity for the
Trinity River Corridor Project a plan for urban development around a 20-mile area that would include
houses, waterfront condominiums, office buildings
and shops and restaurants. DSJ was long viewed
as an impediment to moving the development plan
forward. As of 2016, plans to demolish the existing
jail or repurpose the shuttered correctional facility
have yet to be decided.8

The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS

FULTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY (NEW
YORK, MEDIUM SECURITY PRISON):
REENTRY CENTER

HANNA CITY WORK CAMP (ILLINOIS,
MINIMUM SECURITY PRISON):
SMALL FARM INCUBATOR

The Fulton Correctional Facility in the Bronx, New
York was converted to a medium security prison in
1975. The building opened as an Episcopal Church
in 1906 and since its construction at various times
had housed a nursing home, drug rehabilitation
center, and Jewish community center. The shuttered
prison was among 13 state prisons closed in 2011.
While used as a prison, the facility housed up to 900
inmates on work release.

The site of the Hanna City Work Camp in Peoria, Illinois was not always used for a prison. The United
States Air Force once used the former work camp
site for radar tracking; that ended in 1968 due to
budget cuts, and was soon repurposed as a state
correctional facility. The prison closed in 2002 for
budgetary reasons, and the state signed over the
prison camp to Peoria County in 2008. The property
transfer came with conditions including a requirement that its repurposing be for public use.

During 2015, New York City transferred the facility’s
deed to the Osborne Association, a criminal justice
reform group. Osborne is managing the complete
reconfiguration of the building from a prison to a
community reentry hub for formerly incarcerated
individuals that includes temporary housing and job
training. Resources to support the building’s conversion include a $6 million grant from the Empire
State Development Corporation, a state fund established to support economic development in communities experiencing prison closures.

The Peoria County Board has convened discussions
to repurpose the shuttered facility. Community
consensus has focused on using the site as a small
farm incubator that includes training and marketing;
the site will also serve as a distribution center for
locally grown food. According to the University of Illinois, transforming the former prison into a re-imagined agricultural development center will produce an
estimated $124 million in new farm income for the
region.

GAINESVILLE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
(FLORIDA, MEDIUM SECURITY PRISON):
HOMELESS CENTER

HAYWOOD CORRECTIONAL CENTER (NORTH
CAROLINA, MINIMUM SECURITY PRISON):
HOMELESS SHELTER

Opened in 1991 with a capacity of 507 beds, the
prison was closed in 2012 due to budget cuts, and
the site was acquired by the city of Gainesville. The
shuttered prison is surrounded by a wooded area
about a mile from the regional airport. City commissioners repurposed the former prison into, Grace
Marketplace, a nonprofit one-stop homeless center
that provides job training as well as programs for
the broader community like organizational meeting
space. Stakeholders are working to remodel the
facility so that it looks less like a prison; the renovated mess hall has new tiling and there is a raised-bed
garden on the grounds. The center is funded by a
combination of resources from the city of Gainesville and the surrounding county for its first year of
operation.

The Haywood Correctional Center was opened more
than 70 years ago with a capacity of 128 beds. It
was closed in 2011 as part of a cost-saving measure. The repurposing of the prison was developed
by Sheriff Greg Christopher, who collaborated with
area churches, and business and community stakeholders to attract funding to underwrite the project.
County Commissioners purchased it from the state
and anticipated continuing to use it for correctional
purposes as an overflow jail for the area’s local justice population. Those plans shifted in recent years,
with a focus now on converting the closed prison
to a multi-use site that includes a halfway house,
homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

Plans to convert the closed prison also involve leasing building space to other nonprofit agencies to
increase the level of services available on the site.

Conversion to a homeless shelter was done as a
part of television personality Ty Pennington’s nationwide contest, the Ultimate Give Back Challenge,
and received broad support among fans who were
invited to vote on which project the initiative would
select.

The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS
States with Closures and Pending Closures of Correctional Facilities 2011-2016
State

Correctional Facility

AK

Palmer Correctional Facility

CA

California Rehabilitation Center

CO

Colorado State Penitentiary II

CO

Capacity9 Year10

State

Correctional Facility

Capacity

176

2016

LA

J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center

3,900

2012

LA

Jetson Center for Youth

316

2012

MI

Kit Carson Correctional Center

1,400

2016

CO

Fort Lyon Correctional Facility

500

CT

Bergin Correctional Institution

CT

Year

300

2012

76

2014

Florence Crane Correctional Facility

1,056

2011

MI

Pugsley Correctional Facility

1,334

2016

2011

MS

Walnut Grove Correctional Facility

1,260

2016

603

2011

NV

Nevada State Prison

841

2011

Enfield Correctional Institution

724

2011

NY

Arthur Kill Medium Security Prison

900

2011

CT

Fairmont Building at Bridgeport
Correctional Center

204

2015

NY

Beacon Correctional Facility

201

2013

CT

J.B. Gates Correctional Institution

878

2011

NY

Bayview Correctional Facility

229

2013

CT

Niantic Annex

450

2016

NY

Buffalo Work Release

132

2011

CT

Somers Housing Units

400

2016

NY

Butler Correctional Facility

240

2013

FL

Brevard Correctional Facility

929

2011

NY

Camp Georgetown

262

2011

FL

Broward Correctional Institution

611

2012

NY

Chateaugay Correctional Facility

240

2013

FL

Caryville Work Camp

133

2012

NY

Fulton Work Release

258

2011

FL

Demily Correctional Institution

342

2012

NY

Summit Shock Incarceration
Correctional Facility

121

2011

FL

Gainesville Correctional Institution

507

2012

NY

Oneida Medium Correctional Facility

998

2011

FL

Hendry Work Camp

280

2012

NY

Mid-Orange Correctional Facility

736

2011

FL

Hillsborough Correctional Institution

431

2011

NY

300

2013

FL

Indian River Correctional Institution

381

2012

Monterey Shock Incarceration
Correctional Facility

FL

Levy Forestry Camp

292

2012

NY

Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility

544

2013

FL

New River Correctional Institution

1,363

2012

NC

Bladen Correctional Center

172

2013

FL

River Junction Work Camp

736

2012

NC

104

2014

FL

Tallahassee Road prison

82

2011

Buncombe Correctional Center
(consolidated with Craggy Correctional
Center)

Blakely Regional Youth Detention
Center

NC

Cabarrus Correctional Facility

198

2011

GA

30

2011

NC

Charlotte Correctional Center

256

2011

GA

Griffin Regional Youth Detention Center

30

2011

NC

Duplin Correctional Center

328

2013

GA

Metro State Prison

779

2011

NC

Durham Correctional Center

216

2011

GA

Paulding Regional Youth Detention
Center

100

2013

NC

Fountain Correctional Center For
Women

531

2014

IL

Dwight Correctional Center

1,212

2012

NC

Haywood Correctional Center

128

2011

IL

Joliet Renaissance Center – Youth
Center

344

2012

NC

North Piedmont Correctional Center for
Women

144

2014

IL

Murphysboro Youth Prison

156

2012

NC

144

2014

IL

Tamms Super Maximum Security
Correctional Center

Raleigh Correctional Center for Women
(consolidated with NCCIW)

700

2012

NC

Robeson Correctional Center12

276

2013

IL

Statesville F. House11

386

2016

KY

Marion Adjustment Center

826

2013

NC

Tillery Correctional Center
(consolidated with Caledonia
Correctional Institution)

208

2014

KY

Otter Creek Correctional Center

656

2012

NC

Wayne Correctional Center

428

2013

708

2014

50

2011

LA

C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center

942

2012

NC

Western Youth Institution

LA

Forcht-Wade Correctional Center

498

2012

OR

Hillcrest Units (Chi and Kappa)

13

The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS
States with Closures and Pending Closures of Correctional Facilities 2011-2016 (continued)
State

Correctional Facility

OR

MacLaren Units (Dunbard, Kincaid and
McBride)

75

2011

OR

Oak Creek Unit (Young Women’s
Transition Program)

25

2011

OR

Oregon State Penitentiary – Minimum
Security

176

2011

PA

Cresson State Correctional Institution

1,400

2013

PA

Greensburg State Correctional
Institution

988

2013

RI

Donald Price Medium Security Facility

324

2011

TX

Al Price State Juvenile Correctional
Facility

248

2011

TX

Central Unit

1,000

2011

TX

Crockett State School

232

2011

TX

Dawson State Jail

2,216

2013

TX

Mineral Wells Facility14

2,100

2011/
2013

TX

Ron Jackson Juvenile Correctional
Complex Unit II

113

2011

TX

TDCJ – Burnett County Jail

240

2011

SC

Watkins Pre-Release Center

224

2012

SC

Campbell Pre-Release Center

246

2015

SC

Coastal Pre-Release Center

187

2015

SC

Lower-Savannah Pre-Release Center

250

2016

VA

Cold Springs Work Center

140

2014

VA

James River Correctional Center

450

2011

VA

Mecklenburg Correctional Center

730

2012

VA

Powhatan Main Correctional Center

850

2014

VA

White Post Diversion Center

107

2014

WA

McNeil Island Corrections Center

1,200

2011

WI

Ethan Allen School

167

2011

WI

Southern Oaks Girls School

18

2011

Total Operational Capacity

Capacity

Year

48,944

The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS

CONSIDERATIONS IN PRISON
CLOSURE
Prison closures provide an opening to reimagine
economic challenges in impacted communities.
Closures typically animate resistance due to a perceived loss of jobs, tax revenue and other factors.
To address this, New York State requires a one-year
notice of correctional facilities’ closures.15
But, these developments are not uniform across the
country. In contrast to this trend, some states have
announced since 2013 that they may open new
correctional facilities, add new beds to existing facilities, or reopen facilities that had previously been
shuttered.
In other states, closure announcements have faced
opposition. In Illinois for example, the American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing correctional officers,
unsuccessfully opposed efforts to close down two
state prisons in recent years through legislative
strategies, litigation, and a public campaign.16 In
Texas, local political leadership opposed that state’s
decision to not renew a private prison contract for
the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility owned
and operated by CCA.17
Many local officials embraced prison construction
as an economic development strategy. But the
research shows that the benefits are not clear.18
Generally, prison closure proponents counter that
prisons are not a source of economic opportunity.
Yet, those rejoinders ignore the history of prison
development particularly on communities impacted
by declines in agriculture.
High-incarceration communities, the neighborhoods
that send many individuals to prison, also suffer
economic loss. These neighborhoods experience
substantial disadvantage due to economic divestment, political disenfranchisement, and downward
mobility caused by the cycling of residents to and
from prison.19
Lawmakers and practitioners working to scale back
harsh sentencing policies while also downsizing
prison capacity will need to engage in intentional
discussions of the economic impact of a prison
closure. New York officials engaged this conversation directly through efforts anchored by the Empire
State Development office as part of the Economic
Transformation and Facility Redevelopment Program. Legislators authorized the program to support the economies of communities affected by the

closure of certain correctional and juvenile justice
facilities. Program staff convened conversations in
the affected communities for the reuse of closed
correctional facilities. The program also facilitated
an economic development initiative with business
firms interested in relocating to affected communities through tax incentives.20

JUVENILE CORRECTIONAL
FACILITIES
There were 1,195 fewer juvenile facilities in 2014
than 2000, a 39 percent decline.21 While facilities
of all sizes have closed, the greatest declines have
been in the number of large juvenile facilities (those
holding more than 200 juveniles). There were 100
such facilities in 2000 and 22 as of 2014. The largest facilities are expensive to maintain, but they also
provide fewer tailored services than small facilities,
increasing the chances of reoffending.
The dual trends of closing large juvenile facilities
and declining numbers of juveniles in placement
have changed the typical juvenile placement. In
2000, 34,147 juveniles (31 percent of all juveniles
in placement) were held in large facilities. By 2014,
5,768 juveniles (11 percent) were held in these large
facilities.
In recent years, some states that closed juvenile
facilities have transferred them to the adult correctional system. For example, in Illinois a closed
juvenile prison in Murphysboro is being repurposed
as a reentry center that provides job training and life
skills including basic finance to incarcerated persons.22

PRISON DOWNSIZING AS AN
OPPORTUNITY FOR PHASING OUT
FOR-PROFIT PRISONS
Some prisons have closed following the termination
of a contract due to prison population declines or
other factors. In recent years states like Colorado,
Mississippi, Kentucky, and Texas have closed privately owned or managed prisons. During 2016, the
Department of Justice announced plans to phase
out the use of private for-profit prisons to house
persons convicted of federal offenses. The Obama
administration cited declines in the federal prison
population as one reason for-profit contracts could
be phased out. As of 2016, BOP maintained contracts with 13 private prisons.

The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS

REINVESTING JUSTICE SAVINGS
Prison closures offer an opportunity for state officials and community leaders to reimagine spending
on public safety priorities. In recent decades public safety has been viewed as monies prioritized
towards law enforcement, prison construction and
maintenance, and other services supporting the
criminal justice system. However, growing bipartisan support among elected officials at the federal
and state level has contributed to a shifting climate
for criminal justice policies and practices to support
interventions outside of the criminal justice system.

Prison closures offer an opportunity
for state officials and community
leaders to reimagine spending on
public safety priorities.
Justice reinvestment acknowledges the collateral impacts of mass incarceration on many urban
neighborhoods. These impacts can perpetuate
cycles of crime and incarceration. Billions of dollars
are spent each year to imprison large numbers of
people from low-income urban neighborhoods. A
justice reinvestment approach would redirect some
portion of the funds states now spend on prisons to
rebuild the social capital and local infrastructure –
quality schools, community centers, and healthcare
facilities – in high incarceration neighborhoods.23
A salient provision of the strategy achieves cost
savings by reducing prison populations through the
rethinking of excessive and costly prison terms and
reducing recidivism for individuals who return to
high incarceration communities.
Political and public support for prison closures is
often dependent on projected savings due to the
shuttering of correctional facilities. Justice reinvestment offers the residents of high incarceration communities a framework to reclaim public money that
has been used to support unproductive corrections
spending. Kansas officials initiated an ambitious
justice reinvestment experiment in 2006. Officials
implemented a neighborhood revitalization strategy
in a high incarceration community to strengthen
recidivism reduction efforts. Following a research
initiative to determine the jurisdiction with the
highest rate of incarceration, correctional officials
established a reentry program in Wichita’s Council
District 1 where persons returned to prison for pro-

bation and parole violations resulted in $5.5 million
in prison costs.24 Reentry specialists were hired
to develop affordable housing under collaboration
between the Department of Corrections, the Housing Resources Commission, and the Department of
Social and Rehabilitation Services.25
State officials in Connecticut and Colorado have
also initiated justice reinvestment policies. Connecticut lawmakers authorized legislation in 2003
that earmarked $7.5 million for justice reinvestment
in New Haven following sentencing reforms to address prison growth. Colorado lawmakers discussed
reprioritizing scarce resources towards other social
services during private prison contract discussions.
One 2012 budget proposal would have re-appropriated $5.4 million from private prisons to support
childhood literacy, while another would have transferred $1.5 million from private prisons to support
programs that help needy and disabled individuals.26
However, the proposals did not advance through the
legislative process.

CONCLUSION
In recent years, criminal justice reform has regularly
been raised at the state level. Officials working to
rein in budgets have successfully explored incarceration alternatives to reduce state prison populations
without compromising public safety. The circumstances surrounding prison closures vary from
state to state and create challenges and opportunities. Prison population reductions have created
an opening to close prisons; in some communities
there have been intentional discussions about repurposing prisons for non-correctional uses. Practical
examples of prison reuse projects have taken place
in various jurisdictions including Illinois, New York,
Florida, Tennessee, and Texas. The areas surrounding these reuse projects are also diverse and include
rural, suburban, and urban communities. Planning
for prison repurposing has involved the participation of a range of stakeholders including executive,
legislative, and local leadership in addition to the
participation of practitioners and engaged community members.
Circumstances in New York and North Carolina led
officials to downsize prison capacity. Michigan27
and Illinois, which have previously shuttered prisons, have since taken steps to reopen closed facilities. In Illinois, officials are repurposing a closed
youth prison as a reentry facility, focused on preparing incarcerated persons to return to their communities.28

The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS
Yet efforts to close prisons often face resistance.
The closure of correctional facilities has created
challenges for communities including job losses,
and declines in property tax revenue. Officials have
responded in various ways that include selling
closed prisons to other agencies for continued correctional purposes and managing empty prisons in
anticipation of future population increases. Illinois
officials sold the closed Thomson Correctional Center to the overcrowded federal Bureau of Prisons for
$165 million to house persons convicted of federal
offenses.29 States like Michigan have continued to
manage previously closed prisons. In 2012, Michigan officials reopened the Muskegon Correctional
Facility which had closed in 2010; Pennsylvania
prisoners were incarcerated there during 2011.30
States have also advanced efforts to add new prison capacity. Despite plans for shuttering the Jetson
Center for Youth, Louisiana officials plan to open
the Acadiana Center for Youth, with an operational capacity of 72 beds at a cost of more than $20
million.31 Other states that have publicly discussed
adding new capacity in recent years include Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Virginia.
Reimagining the use for a closed prison offers
states and local communities opportunities to
address the scale of incarceration. The public will
benefit from strategic efforts that rethink the use
of closed correctional facilities to advance a vision
that strengthens resources and communities.

The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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POLICY BRIEF: REPURPOSING PRISONS

ENDNOTES
1	 State prison closures documented based on information requests and public reports.
2	 Estimate based on projected savings from states that disclosed this information.
3	 Nazgol Ghandnoosh. U.S. Prison Population Trends 1999-2014: Broad Variation Among States in Recent Years. (The Sentencing Project 2016),
available at http://www.sentencingproject.org/.
publications/u-s-prison-population-trends-1999-2014-broad-variation-among-states-in-recent-years/.
4	 Ram Subramanian and Ruth Delaney. Playbook for Change? States Reconsider Mandatory Sentences. (Vera Institute of Justice 2014), available
at http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/mandatory-sentences-policy-report-v3.
5	 Supra, National Research Council.
6	 Jen Fiffield, “Shuttered State Prisons Spring Back to Life,” Pew Stateline November 3, 2016. Download from: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/
research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2016/11/03/shuttered-state-prisons-spring-back-to-life.
7	 Staff, “Prison is Opposed on Staten Island,” The New York Times April 21, 1976. Download from: http://www.nytimes.com/1976/04/21/archives/
prison-is-opposed-on-staten-island-plan-to-convert-drug-center.html?_r=0.
8	 See Catherine Arnold, “Healing Dallas by Repurposing its Abandoned Jails,” The Texas Observer (2014). Downloaded from: https://www.
texasobserver.org/healing-dallas-repurposing-abandoned-jails/.
9	 The operational capacity of a correctional facility refers to the number of persons a prison can safely hold given factors such as the architectural design and the number of staff for the institution.
10	 This was the year the closure first announced. The actual closure date may be in subsequent years.
11	 Reported capacity as of September 2016. Monique Garcia and Duaa Eldeib. “Rauner to shutter ‘terrible,’ outdated part of Stateville prison,”
Chicago Tribune. October 14, 2016.
12	 Reopened for probation violators in 2014.
13	 Partially reopened for probation violators.
14	 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.
15	 New York Correction Law Section 79-a.
16	 James Ridgeway and Jean Casella, “Solidarity and Solitary: When Unions Clash With Prison Reform,” Solitary Watch. February 21, 2013.
17	 Chris Agee, “Mineral Wells pre-parole transfer prison set to close,” The Weatherford Democrat. June 14, 2013, online at: http://www.weatherforddemocrat.com/news/local_news/mineral-wells-pre-parole-transfer-prison-set-to-close/article_d652e55e-37fc-5f1c-9643-0728ddade534.html.
18	 See Ryan S. King, Marc Mauer and Tracy Huling, “Big Prisons, Small Towns: Prison Economics in Rural America,” The Sentencing Project, 2003.
19	 Jim Austin et. al, “Ending Mass Incarceration Charting a New Justice Reinvestment,” 2013, online at: http://sentencingproject.org/wp-content/
uploads/2015/12/Ending-Mass-Incarceration-Charting-a-New-Justice-Reinvestment.pdf
20	 Staff, “Economic Transformation and Facility Redevelopment Program Report,” Empire State Development. 2014, online at: http://esd.ny.gov/
Reports/ECONOMICTRANSFORMATIONPROGRAMREPORT.pdf
21	 OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/corrections/qa08501.asp?qaDate=2014.
22	 Governor Bruce Rauner. “Gov. Rauner: In name of justice, I’m closing Stateville’s F House,” Chicago Sun Times (2016). available at http://chicago.
suntimes.com/opinion/gov-rauner-in-name-of-justice-im-closing-statevilles-f-house/.
23	 Susan B. Tucker and Eric Cadora, “Ideas for an Open Society: Justice Reinvestment,” The Open Society Institute. 2003.
24	 Michael Thompson, Tony Fabelo and Eric Cadora, “Building Community Capacity to Reduce Crime and Save Prison Space” (Council of State
Governments PowerPoint presentation to the Wichita Summit, April 18, 2005).
25	 Kansas Department of Corrections 2009 Annual Report, online at http://www.doc.ks.gov/publications/2009 Annual Report KDOC.pdf.
26	 Ivan Moreno, “Colo. House debates $7.4 billion spending plan,” The Associated Press. April 12, 2012.
27	 Matt Sumner, “Northern Michigan prison reopens to replace closing corrections facility,” WMCU.org, October 9, 2015.
28	 Governor Bruce Rauner, “Governor Rauner Announces Significant Steps in Reforming Illinois’ Criminal Justice System,” online at: http://www3.
illinois.gov/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?SubjectID=3&RecNum=13854 Office of the Governor. October 14, 2016.
29	 John Presta, “Governor Quinn Announces the Sale of Thomson Correctional Center to the Feds” Examiner.com, October 2, 2012.
30	 Staff, “West Michigan prison closed in 2011 reopens, new inmates scheduled to arrive next week,” The Associated Press. October 5, 2012.
31	 Staff, “Acadiana Center for Youth Opening Delayed,” Correctional News, April 5, 2016.

This briefing paper was written by Nicole D. Porter, Director of State
Advocacy at The Sentencing Project. Updated December 15, 2016.
1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20036

The Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U.S. justice
system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing
unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for
alternatives to incarceration.

sentencingproject.org
The Sentencing Project • 1705 DeSales Street NW, 8th Floor • Washington, D.C. 20036 • sentencingproject.org

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