GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S public safety secretary confirmed on Tuesday that MCI-Framingham, the oldest women’s penitentiary in the country, will be shuttered and prisoners eventually relocated to the Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk.
Turco said it would take about $35 million to set up a new women’s prison at Bay State, a former men’s prison that currently houses Department of Correction administrative offices. That figure is significantly less than the $60 to $80 million projected as necessary to repair MCI-Framingham, which Turco described as “crumbling.”
Turco said state Reps. Christine Barber, Kay Khan, and Ruth Balser encouraged the public safety agency to look at Bay State Correctional Center as an alternative to Framingham.
Legislative approval will be needed for any capital spending on a new facility, according to Turco, who was asked about this by committee chair Antonio Cabral of New Bedford.
Built in 1877, the Framingham prison has had to close several sections of the facility in recent years due to aging infrastructure that isn’t up to state standards, according to a June 2019 report filed by a Department of Public Health inspector.
“We spent several million dollars trying to get the cottages up and running, and every time and we found another obstacle which required additional work,“ Turco said of the housing units at Framingham.
The state has already begun the process of selecting a firm to design a new women’s prison. Last month, a state selection board narrowed the field for the $600,000 project to three architecture or design firms, all of which claim expertise in building prisons for women. A group called Families for Justice as Healing, made up of former prisoners and current prisoners’ families, felt the selection process was moving too swiftly, and had interrupted the January board meeting where the decision was made. A public meeting on the topic slated for earlier this month was canceled.
After earlier denying it was vacating the Framingham women’s prison, the Department of Correction acknowledged in December that it was looking to hire design firms to determine whether the Bay State Correction Center and facility adjacent to the Framingham prison, the South Middlesex Correctional Center, could be rebuilt to accommodate the MCI-Framingham inmates.
The Executive Office of Public Safety now says it is focusing only on Bay State as a future facility for female inmates.
Turco said the number of women at the Framingham facility has dropped from about 500 four years ago to between 180 and 200 today. The state has moved some inmates from the prison to county facilities because of deteriorating conditions at Framingham. Over 100 female inmates are currently housed at the South Bay House of Correction in Boston.