By: Jaden Edison via The CT Mirror
The state will close Willard Correctional Institution in Enfield by April 1, officials said Tuesday, making the prison the third in the last two years to cease operations.
With its closure, Willard will join Radgowski Correctional Center and Northern Correctional Institution on the list of state correctional facilities that have shuttered operations since 2021 due to a shrinking prison population.
“There is a great deal of work that goes into closing a correctional facility,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Angel Quiros. “From the staff to the incarcerated population, there are a lot of moving parts.”
In the coming weeks, the approximately 260 people incarcerated at Willard will transfer to other correctional facilities throughout the state, officials said. They also said the department would work with Willard’s 71 correctional staff on transitioning workers to other nearby facilities.
“Thanks to the professionalism of our staff, I have no doubt that the job will get done in a methodical and seamless manner, just as we did with the Radgowski and Northern facilities,” Quiros said.
But Collin Provost, president of AFSCME Local 391 — a correctional staff union — called the decision to close Willard “disappointing,” saying the move was made when there’s a “seemingly increasing demand for social distancing” and increasing numbers of people being admitted to jails and prisons.
“I understand the politics behind closing correctional facilities in Connecticut,” Provost said. “But I don’t believe it’s the general public’s belief that shuttering prisons is the way forward.”
News of Willard’s closure was met with cautious optimism from criminal justice advocates in the state.
“It’s cost effective, it saves the state money, you don’t have to fund it, you don’t have to staff it,” said Brian Sullivan, who works with the ACLU’s Connecticut chapter. “They said they were going to close many facilities, and the population has dropped dramatically to some of its lowest points in decades. So I think they are not just talking the talk, but they’re walking the walk.”
The Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice, an organization that has campaigned for the closure of state prisons, said in a statement that deciding to close Willard “was the right thing to do.”
“This is a testament to decades of organizing in Connecticut to end mass incarceration,” said Lorenzo Jones, the group’s co-executive director. “Our membership has organized to cut the correctional population, shut down prisons, and win investments in real community safety — housing, health care, education, jobs.”
He said it’s good to see Gov. Ned Lamont announcing a prison closure, “but it’s not enough.”
Since 2013, the number of admissions to DOC facilities has decreased by more than 11,600 people, according to data from the agency. The most recent increase came in the last fiscal year, when admissions rose by more than 4,300 people — though the numbers are far below pre-pandemic levels.
And since Quiros was appointed commissioner in 2020, he has been committed to closing some of the state’s prisons to keep pace with declining numbers and to meet budget responsibilities. The decisions to close Northern and Radgowski saved the state around a combined $20 million in annual operating costs.
Closing Willard will save the state approximately $6.5 million annually, officials said Tuesday.
“Because spending millions annually to operate facilities for a population that is significantly smaller than just a few years ago is not a good use of taxpayer money,” Lamont said, “Connecticut is continuing to right-size its correction system to concentrate resources more effectively.”
To some people who have long fought for prison closures in the state, the money saved should trickle down to those hurt by the criminal legal system.
“Every day, we hear the same thing: communities want investments in the things that produce real safety — housing, health care, education, jobs,” said Jones of the Katal Center. “The savings from this prison closure must be invested in the Black, Brown, and low-income communities most harmed by criminalization and mass incarceration in our state.”
Sullivan with the ACLU said he likes the direction the state is headed with declining prison admissions and more facility closures — and that officials, so far, have kept their word.
“Obviously, every state in the country could do more,” said Sullivan, who was incarcerated for 31 years. “I mean, that’s just a no brainer. It’s never going to be, it’s not a perfect system. But I think that we are on the right track, and I think great things are gonna happen.”