Prepping to move female inmates at MCI-Framingham

Design firms sought for rebuilds at two facilities

A correction has been added to this story.

A STATE BOARD looking to convert two rundown prisons in Norfolk and Framingham into facilities that can house female prisoners from MCI-Framingham has narrowed the list of project designers to three, all of whom claim expertise in building prisons for women.

MCI-Framingham, the state’s lone prison for women, appears to be in a serious state of disrepair. Built in 1877, it’s the oldest women’s prison in the US. Several sections of the prison have closed in recent years due to aging infrastructure that isn’t up to state standards, according to a report filed by a Department of Public Health inspector.

After earlier denying it was vacating the facility, the Department of Correction acknowledged last month that it was looking to hire design firms to determine whether the Bay State Correction Center in Norfolk and the South Middlesex Correctional Center in Framingham could be rebuilt to accommodate the MCI-Framingham inmates. Over a hundred inmates have already been moved out to the South Bay House of Correction in Boston.

In its bid instructions, the state said it wants the designer to “have an eye to specific needs of the female prison population” and incorporate “trauma informed design” to create a welcoming therapeutic space.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the deliberations of the state’s Designer Selection Board were disrupted by a group called Families for Justice as Healing, which felt the selection process was moving too swiftly.

The board, however, said there was little it could do and narrowed the field of candidates for $600,000 in design work to three – Finegold Alexander Architects; Kleinfelder Northeast, Inc.; and SMRT Architects & Engineers. The cost of the full buildout of the project is estimated at $50 million. Finegold Alexander Architects; Kleinfelder Northeast, Inc. expressed interest in meeting with the activists.

At Bay State, state officials are envisioning a new building to house 200 maximum and medium security female offenders from Framingham. At South Middlesex, which is adjacent to MCI-Framingham and built in 1939, the plan is to remodel the existing facility to handle 125 pre-release and minimum security female detainees. South Middlesex relies on the power, heating, and water supply from MCI-Framingham’s power plant.

Liz Minnis, deputy commissioner for planning at the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, the state’s real estate arm, said the state is looking at Bay State and South Middlesex proposals as an alternative to investing in MCI-Framingham.

Kleinfelder, which has worked on different projects at MCI-Framingham in the past, said in its paperwork that “a significant portion of the building is not utilized and is in disrepair.”

The company said its priorities in redesigning the Bay State and South Middlesex buildings would be improving health services, expanding the capacity of intake, and reducing crowding. Kleinfelder said there tend to be fewer violent offenders at women prisons, so low or medium security environments are in higher demand. The firm said it also wants to “provide a pleasant child visitation area that supports both mother and child.”

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Graham Vickers, the chief architect at SMRT Architects and Engineers, said his practice has a “focus on designing for justice clients.” He said he worked on the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women, a new 224-bed facility.

Finegold Alexander has extensive experience designing justice facilities for the state of Massachusetts and the firm is teaming with HOK Architects, a firm that focuses on correctional facility design that is responsive to the needs of incarcerated women. HOK specializes in “gender-responsive planning” and has designed inmate housing that allows children to sleep with their mothers. [This paragraph was corrected to make clear the role of HOK Architects as part of the team.]

The selection board asked the firms to return on Feb. 5 for interviews. Final ranking will be made immediately after.