For two decades, Florida’s Gainesville Correctional Institute was a medium-security state prison where the guards’ main goal was to keep prisoners in. Now it’s Grace Marketplace, a nonprofit campus for the homeless, where social service workers are helping residents find a way out, reports Stateline. About 115 people live on the property, tucked away in an industrial area of a college town, receiving free meals, work training, and connections to government services, transportation, and jobs. About 150 state prisons closed after the Great Recession, the result of declining prison populations and consolidations meant to save on operating costs. Many of the properties have sat vacant for years, costing money to maintain, inviting vagrants, and reminding locals of jobs that have disappeared. Now, the properties are increasingly taking on new life.
In some instances, states are selling, transferring, or leasing the properties to businesses or nonprofits. A nonprofit in Manhattan will convert a closed women’s prison into an office building for organizations that serve women. In California and Colorado, entrepreneurs are looking at the secure walls of two closed prisons as a place to grow medical marijuana. Travelers in Boston can spend the night in an old jail that is now a luxury hotel. In Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, local nonprofits or tourism groups offer tours at old state penitentiaries. In other cases, states are finding new purposes for old prisons,often related to public safety or criminal justice. In Kentucky, a former state prison has since April served as a training academy for state troopers. In New Jersey, a closed prison is expected by next year to reopen as a drug treatment center for inmates. Two juvenile prisons in Illinois are set to reopen in six months as re-entry and life skills centers for adult inmates to be released.