The Department of Correction will shutter the Willard half of its low security Willard Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield by April 1, Commissioner Angel Quiros announced to agency staff in a Tuesday memo.
“The decision to shutter the Willard building was made thanks to the population count remaining low, as well as my obligation to the taxpayers of Connecticut to identify cost savings measures,” Quiros wrote. “As always, safety and security will remain a top priority as we navigate through this process.”
The long-rumored closure comes at the tail end of a budget cycle in which Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration indicated it would close three prisons. The administration has already closed Northern Correctional Institution, a Somers-based “supermax” facility, and Radgowski Correctional Center, one part of a two-building, medium-security prison in Uncasville.
Willard Cybulski is one of the state’s lowest security facilities and generally houses incarcerated men who are preparing to reenter society as they near the end of their sentences. The facility’s programming often focuses on reintegration and occupational training.
In 2015, the Cybulski section of the prison was rebranded Cybulski Community Reintegration Center, though the two buildings continued to operate as one facility, sharing the same staff and incarcerated population.
Combined, the two buildings can house 1,148 men but the facility’s population count dropped sharply during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic and has not returned to full occupancy. As of the end of December, the prison housed just 635 men.
In his memo Tuesday, Quiros said the agency would establish programs for inmates who are relocated to other facilities. Meanwhile, the DOC will not lay off any staff members and plans to transfer displaced staff to fill existing vacancies at nearby facilities.
“Change is often accompanied by anxiousness of what is to come,” Quiros wrote. “I want to reassure all those impacted by this closure that layoffs are not a consideration. We will work closely with our union leaders and human resource partners to make this transition as smooth as possible, while we work through unavoidable reassignments.”
According to the governor’s office, around 71 staff members in various jobs will be relocated in the coming months. The building’s closure is expected to save the state around $6.5 million a year in operating funds.
In a press release, Lamont applauded Quiros and the department.
“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, Connecticut is continuing to right-size its correction system to concentrate resources more effectively,” Lamont said.
In a statement, Collin Provost, president of the AFSCME Local 391, the union representing Willard Cybulski officers, said Willard’s closure was unwelcome news.
“It’s disappointing, in a time of seemingly increasing demand for social distancing and increasing numbers of incarcerated individuals, we would decide to shutter another Correctional Institution,” Provost said. “Especially one that houses individuals preparing to reintegrate and transition back to our communities.”
Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said he had only recently learned of the closure and wanted to be sure the agency had a plan to shutter the building while protecting its incarcerated population and staff.
“My question is what is the plan? How is it executed? Are the people in the system safe and going to remain safe? Are the people working there safe and going to remain safe?” Winfield said.