Officials say the facility may not close after all
By Hugh McQuaid
May 24, 5:00am
The state announced two weeks ago that it would be closing a Mansfield prison by July 1 under a contingency plan if a labor agreement could not be reached with the state employees’ unions. But now that a tentative agreement is in place, officials say the prison is off the chopping block, at least in the short term.
The closure of Bergin Correctional Institution was one of the more serious options Gov. Dannel P. Malloy presented as part of his “Plan B” budget if he could not get the $2 billion in concessions he needed from the state employee unions, Office of Policy and Management Undersecretary of Criminal Justice Michael P. Lawlor said on May 10.
But three days later, the administration announced a tentative agreement had been reached with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. While that agreement must still be approved by 14 of the 15 SEBAC member unions and 80 percent of the total voting, Lawlor said Friday evening the prison’s closure may not be imminent.
However, the budget the governor signed into law May 4 calls for the closure of two state prisons by the end of the year. The Department of Corrections announced last month that J.B. Gates Correctional Institution in Niantic will be closing June 1. The second prison has still yet to be determined.
Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, said Bergin originally was chosen because, under Malloy’s “Plan B” budget, the state would have had to quickly shut down a facility. Bergin is a minimum security prison and was identified as the best candidate for rapid closure.
If the labor agreement is ratified by the unions, it buys the state time to do its homework and determine which facility is the best choice for closure, Haddad said.
Over the last three years, Connecticut’s inmate population has fallen by 2,400, which is a trend Lawlor said he expects to continue. The decision on where prison closures occur likely will be based on which sector of the inmate population drops most dramatically. If there seems to be fewer female inmates in the system, the closure may occur at York, the state’s only female prison, in East Lyme.
Lawlor notes that closures will be based on cost-benefit analyses and may not represent an entire facility. Rather, the state could chose to close wings at several different prisons to achieve the savings it is seeking, he said. The state intends to keep the closed prison properties should the population rise again, he said.
“These prisons aren’t going to be bulldozed or anything like that. They will be sitting there mothballed,” Lawlor said.
For now layoff notices to Bergin’s 218 employees have been rescinded but the decision still hinges on the ratification of the labor agreement, Lawlor said. AFSCME Local 1565 President Luke Leone and SEBAC spokesman Larry Dorman said Thursday they are urging their members to vote for the agreement.
But its ratification remains far from a foregone conclusion. In 2009, during the last labor negotiations, the bargaining unit that represents most of the state’s correctional officers was one of three that declined to sign off on the concession package.
Regardless of what Bergin’s status is at the end of the year, the town of Mansfield is unlikely to be impacted heavily by the decision, Haddad said. Because the Department of Corrections will be retaining the property, Payment In Lieu Of Taxes funds, or money towns receive from the state for hosting state facilities, will be maintained at current levels, he said.
But Haddad said the prison, which houses low-level offenders and inmates nearing the end of their incarceration, has always been a fairly good neighbor in Mansfield.
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