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The Sentencing Project on the Chopping Block State Prison Closings 2011

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As a result of recent policy changes and pressures brought on by the fiscal crisis, state lawmakers
are closing prisons after 40 years of record prison expansion. Declining prison populations in a
number of states have resulted in excess prison capacity. During 2010, the Bureau of Justice
Statistics reported the first decline in the overall state prison population since 1977 and found 24
states had reduced prison populations during 2009.
In 2011 at least thirteen states have closed prison institutions or are contemplating doing so,
potentially reducing prison capacity by over 13,900 beds. Since 2002, Michigan has led the
nation in this regard. The state has closed 21 facilities, including prison camps, as a result of
sentencing and parole reforms. Overall, the state has reduced capacity by over 12,000 beds for a
total cost savings of $339 million.1 Other states, including New Jersey and Kansas, have also
closed prisons in recent years amid changes in sentencing policy and parole decision making that
have resulted in a decline in state prison populations. Maryland also reduced prison capacity
when it closed the Maryland House of Corrections in 2007 by transferring 850 prisoners to other
States Closing or Considering Closing Correctional Facilities in 2011
New York

North Carolina

Rhode Island

Total Beds

Correctional Facility
Fort Lyon Correctional Facility
Bergin Correctional Institution, Enfield Correctional Institute
Blakely Regional Youth Detention Center, Griffin Regional Youth Detention
Florence Crane Correctional Facility
Brevard Correctional Facility, Tallahassee Road Prison
Hillsborough Correctional Institution
Nevada State Prison
Buffalo Work Release, Camp Georgetown, Summit Shock, Fulton Work
Release, Arthur Kill Medium Security Prison, Mid-Orange Medium Security
Prison, and Oneida Medium Security Prison
Cabarrus Correctional Facility
Oregon State Penitentiary – Minimum Security, MacLaren Units (Dunbar,
Kincaid and McBride), Hillcrest Units (Chi and Kappa), Oak Creek Unit
(Young Women’s Transition Program)
Donald Price Medium Security Facility
Central Unit, Burnett County Jail, Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility,
Crockett State School, and Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex
Unit II
McNeil Island Corrections Center
Ethan Allen School and Southern Oaks Girls School

500 beds3
1,327 beds4,5
60 beds6
1,056 beds7
1,497 beds8,9
841 beds10
3,800 beds11
198 beds12
326 beds13,14
324 beds15
2,139 beds16,17,18
1,200 beds19,20
13,915 beds

1705 DeSales St. NW, 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036 ● Tel. 202.628.0871 ● Fax
202.628.1091 ●

State Budget Crisis
Current fiscal pressures have encouraged lawmakers to look at corrections policies in an effort to
identify cost effective approaches to reduce state expenditures on expensive prison operations
without compromising public safety. The National Conference of State Legislatures recently
reported that corrections and public safety spending were above budgeted levels in seven states,
including Alaska, where corrections spending exceed the state’s $258 million corrections
budget22 by $9 million.23 While the prison population has declined significantly in Michigan,
state lawmakers are still continuing work to contain costs where one out of three state employees
works in the criminal justice system and the corrections budget represents 23% of state general
Not all states that have reduced their prison populations have closed prisons. For example, New
York, which lowered its prison population from about 71,600 in 1999 to about 59,300 by 2009
struggled to closed facilities. Opposition from the correction officers’ union and politicians
representing the areas where most of the state’s correctional facilities are located resulted in a
slow process to close prisons. However, lawmakers confronted with the fiscal crisis were
ultimately able to reach an agreement resulting in the announcement of prison closures.
While funds to manage expensive prison systems have lessened, so too have resources for
services such as treatment for substance abuse and mental health. For example, Minnesota
lawmakers recently considered a significant reduction of funding for a model in-prison treatment
program that has been shown to reduce recidivism by 25 percent.24 Thus, the viability of
alternatives to incarceration programs and reentry services may be compromised in the current
Momentum for State Sentencing Reform
In recent years a number of states have been engaged in sentencing reforms that have contributed
to declines in prison populations. Lawmakers in Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York
enacted a mix of administrative and legislative policies that contributed to sustained prison
population reductions of 5-20%. In each of these states a range of policy changes were adopted,
including sentencing reforms, alternatives for “prison bound” people, reducing time served in
prison, addressing parole release rates, and reducing revocations. The ability of these four states
to control prison growth shows that policymakers and practitioners can collaborate to reduce the
reliance on incarceration while maintaining public safety.
States are continuing to implement policy responses that change approaches to corrections.
During 2010, state legislatures in at least 23 states and the District of Columbia adopted 35
criminal justice polices that may contribute to reductions in the prison population and eliminate
barriers to reentry.25 Colorado, which announced plans to close a prison, modified its probation
revocation policy to reduce the number of technical parole violators entering prison. Michigan’s
ability to close prisons since 2002 is the result of a mix of reforms that included the repeal of
almost all of the state’s mandatory minimum drug sentences, replacing them with sentencing
Additional state policy reforms included: bipartisan support in South Carolina for equalizing
penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses, modifying mandatory sentencing law that

applies to convictions in “drug free school zones” in New Jersey, and authorizing judges to
sentence below the mandatory minimum in appropriate cases.
In 2011 states have continued efforts to adopt reforms that control prison growth. Delaware’s
Governor Markell signed legislation that significantly restructures drug sentencing by making
important distinctions between drug users and drug dealers, and streamlines the charging process
so that defendants face a single charge with possible aggravators rather than multiple charges for
the same offenses. Lawmakers in Maryland modified the parole process by requiring
consideration of risk assessment and streamlining the approval process for release of certain
Dilemmas of Privatization
Trends to reduce corrections spending have focused on viable alternatives to incarceration and
reduced prison terms for certain segments of the prison population. However, a few states,
including Louisiana, Florida, and Ohio, have explored the option of privatizing their prison
systems in an effort to reduce costs. Proponents of this approach contend that private companies
can manage correctional systems at less cost than state managed agencies. Yet, a recent analysis
in Arizona found that the state paid more per inmate in private prisons than for equivalent
services in state facilities.26
The interests of private prison companies may conflict with efforts to reform sentencing policies
and reduce a state’s reliance on incarceration. For-profit prison operators have a financial
incentive to detain prisoners for longer periods of time. Efforts to reduce sentence lengths for
certain offenses would counter that approach. In some instances, private companies have built
prisons on speculation, anticipating potential contracts from state or federal agencies.
Reducing the Reliance on Incarceration
Efforts to reduce juvenile incarceration have resulted in prison closings as well. The Texas
Youth Commission (TYC) closed three facilities in 2011 – over 590 beds. The closures were
made possible following several years of declines; today there are less than half as many youth in
TYC institutions as in 2006.27 California also experienced declines in secure placements for
juveniles; the number of committed youth in the Division of Juvenile Justice declined by 35%
from 1997 to 2007.28
Despite declines in the juvenile population, California continues to face overcrowding in the
adult system that was recently addressed by the Supreme Court’s order to reduce the prison
population by 46,000. Additionally, there continue to be new reports of prison expansion in
states like Virginia29 and even Texas,30 which reduced its adult prison population in recent years.
So while some states are seriously looking at closing prisons the national scope of mass
incarceration continues to pose a serious challenge. It remains to be seen whether the decisions
of policymakers in a number of states to close correctional facilities can contribute to an
evolving framework that shifts away from the reliance on incarceration.
This briefing paper was authored by Nicole D. Porter, State Advocacy Coordinator of The Sentencing Project with
research assistance from Cody Mason, Program Associate (August 2011).


Dennis Schrantz, “RE: How many correctional facilities has MI closed?”. Email to Marc Mauer. June 23, 2011.
Rosalind S. Helderman, In Surprise Move, Md. Closes Jessup Prison, Transfers Inmates, The Washington Post (March 19,
2007), available at:
Chris Woodka, More time sought on prison closing, The Pueblo Chieftain (March 11, 2011), available at:
Staff, Bergin Correctional Institution, Connecticut Department of Corrections (July 18, 2011), available at:
Sentencing Project phone interview with Andrius Banevicius, Public Information Officer for the Connecticut Department of
Corrections, July 18, 2011.
Sentencing Project phone interview Nathan Cain, Public Relations Specialist for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice,
July 20, 2011.
John C. Cordell, Announcement of the Closing of Florence Crane Correctional Facility, Michigan Department of Corrections,
March 24, 2011.
John Lantigua, Glades prison closing as officials seek way to save jobs, The Palm Beach Post (June 23, 2011), available at:
Sentencing Project phone interview with Jo Ellyn Rackleff, Spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections (July 18,
Cy Ryan, Doors to Clang Shut on State Prison, Las Vegas Sun (May 14, 2011), available at:
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor Cuomo Announces Closure of Seven State Prison Facilities, Office of the Governor,
June 30, 2011.
Staff, State Correctional Center In Cabarrus Co. To Close, (June 24, 2011), available at:
Les Zaitz, Oregon to close prison, lay off 63 workers in $2.5 million budget cut, Oregon Live (September 30, 2010), available
Ann Snyder, Oregon Youth Authority, “RE: Question regarding OYA facility Closings,” Email to Nicole D. Porter. July 19,
Staff, RI Corrections officials plan to close prison, (July 7, 2011), available at:
Zen T. Zheng, It looks like prison will be closing, so what does future hold?, Houston Chronicle (May 25, 2011), available at:
Sentencing Project phone interview with Barbara Pixley, Executive Assistant to Mr. Thaler, June 24, 2011.
Jim Hurley, Texas Youth Commission. “RE: Question regarding Three Juvenile Facility Closures.” Email to Nicole D. Porter.
July 19, 2011.
Sean Robinson and Stacia Glenn, Death of an Island Prison, The Olympian (February 13, 2011), available at:
Sentencing Project phone interview with Rowlanda Cawthon, Communications Consultant, June 24, 2011.
Marcie Laehr Tenuta, DOC recommended closure of Southern Oaks, The Journal Times, (March 3, 2011), available at:
Governor Sean Parnell, Governor Sean Parnell Reduces State Spending Prioritizes Jobs and Families, Office of the Governor,
June 30, 2010.
Staff, State Budget Update: March 2011, National Conference of State Legislatures, April 19, 2011.
Paul McEnroe, Sober path out of prison in jeopardy, Minneapolis Star Tribune (May 25, 2011), available at:
Nicole D. Porter, The State of Sentencing 2010: Developments in Policy and Practice, The Sentencing Project, February 2011.
Staff, Department of Corrections-Prison Population Growth A Report to the Arizona Legislature, State of Arizona Office of the
Auditor General. September, 2010
Marc A. Levin and Vikrant Reddy, Written Testimony Submitted to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal
Justice (February 17, 2011), available at:
Sickmund, Melissa, Sladky, T.J., and Kang, Wei. (2011) "Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement Databook." Online.
Susan Kinzie,New Virginia Prison sits empty, at a cost of more than $700,000 a year, Washington Post (May 30, 2011),
available at:
Celinda Emison, Jones County officials await word from the state on detention facility funding, Reporter News (May 23,
2011), available at: