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  • Writer's pictureStacey Borden

State nudges along design process for new women’s prison — again

A STATE SELECTION BOARD on Wednesday moved forward proposals to construct a new prison for women despite pushback from former prisoners and advocates who said the estimated $50 million for the project would be better spent toward efforts to rehabilitate women with previous traumas.

The Designer Selection Board chose three design firms to submit plans for building a new prison at the Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk that would replace ramshackle MCI-Framingham, the oldest women’s prison in the country.

At the online meeting of the board, the advocacy group Families for Justice as Healing called for the decarceration of prisoners and investments into housing and economic development outside of prison walls. Separately, other groups called for redirecting funds to supportive services, like reentry programming focused on trauma.

Jennifer Gaffney, who represented Department of Correction Commissioner Carol Mici at the meeting, said Mici believes a new type of prison is needed. “It’s been a long-time goal of hers to have a facility that is more conducive for the females that we have in our custody, to really look at trauma-informed care,” she said.

The current search for a design firm is the third time the state has attempted to move forward with the project. Two earlier attempts faltered on procedural grounds – one in February 2020 after the contracting process wasn’t advertised properly in local papers by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance , which acts as a realtor for the Department of Correction, and the other time in August when a workaround process using so-called “House doctors” stirred controversy as an attempt to build a facility out of the public eye.

Each time, advocacy groups have tried to block the construction of a new prison, saying it’s not needed. “We can get to the root causes of incarceration instead of building a new women’s prison,” said Leslie Credle, who was released from MCI-Framingham two years ago. “There is no such thing as a trauma informed care prison. The DOC and administration have taken the punitive approach to incarceration.”

The alternative, said former inmate Stacey Borden, is to infuse cash into reentry programs that can help women dealing with past traumas such as rape, domestic violence, and poverty that often lead many to commit crimes. “The ultimate goal was to give them a home, a residential reentry facility to give them the support services, provide them the support services that they need and deserve,” she said.

Borden was incarcerated until 2010 for white collar crimes, and has since received a master’s degree in trauma and addictions counseling. She heads her own nonprofit, the New Beginnings Reentry Services, which works with women who are formerly incarcerated or dealing with upcoming parole.

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