Re-imagining new uses for shuttered prisons

By John Lam

Shuttered prisons across the nation are given new life by private developers, non-profits and community leaders as economic development and social benefit centers.

“In recent years, entrepreneurs, elected officials and community leaders in a handful of states have re-imagined sites that once incarcerated prisoners for new uses,” The Sentencing Project reported in a December policy brief.

Since 2011, there have been 94 closures and pending closures of correctional facilities. There were also 1,195 fewer juvenile facilities in 2014 than 2000, a 39 percent decline, according to the brief.

The brief outlined some of the planned projects around the country, which included:

In New York, the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility that once housed 931 male inmates was sold to Brooklyn Broadway Stages for $7 million. It will be converted into a movie studio. The studio is expected to generate more than 1,500 new jobs over a five-year period.

In Tennessee, the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, built in 1896, is being repurposed by a private developer into a distillery and tourist attraction.

In North Carolina, the Haywood Correctional Center is being repurposed into a multi-use site that includes a halfway house, homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

At least four states – Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – have converted closed prisons into tourist destinations open to visitors and available to host Halloween events.

But, these developments are not uniform across the country, despite the drop in overall U.S. prison population, the brief noted.

“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,” the project reported.

“Re-imagining the use for a closed prison offers states and local communities opportunities to address the scale of incarceration,” said Nicole D. Porter, director of state advocacy at The Sentencing Project.

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