Wyoming Considers Repairs, Replacement for State Penitentiary

RAWLINS, Wyo. — Poor construction techniques are to blame for numerous structural deficiencies in the 15-year-old Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, according to a recent report from the state’s engineering consultant. Now, the state’s 13-member prison task force has assembled a five-member subcommittee to help determine the next step.

State correctional officials, architects and engineers participated in two days of meetings earlier this month that highlighted issues including cracking walls, disintegrating masonry and rising walls throughout the 820-bed penitentiary structure, which have impacted the facility’s operations. Wyoming correctional officials have been monitoring cracks in the walls of the maximum-security prison since 2013.

The subcommittee will now more closely examine repair and reconstruction options.

Subcommittee member Rep. Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, told the Wyoming Business Report, that the group is considering three potential plans of action: First, repair the penitentiary according to the advice of engineering consultants at a cost of roughly $85 million; second, complete repairs and build new facilities in a new location with better soil conditions; or third, construct an entirely new facility within a 10-mile radius of Rawlins.

Structural and civil engineering services firm Martin/Martin Inc. of Denver will conduct cost benefit analyses for each option and examine how to repair the facility’s extensive damage, according to the Wyoming Business Report.

Meanwhile, subcommittee members will also work to address pressing issues such as avoiding a potential electrical failure caused by the structural damage — which could cost millions and require a full relocation of all impacted inmates, repairing a highly damaged wall in the penitentiary’s gymnasium at an estimated cost of $5 million and tackling water-related problems in one of the facility’s electrical rooms, which could cost up to $3 million. Martin/Martin Inc. has estimated that a new facility would cost up to $180 million and offer a 50-year lifespan.

The state Attorney General is now further investigating the decisions and errors that led to the significant damage, including questionable design methods, failure to adhere to construction change orders and the lack of a clearly identified official general contracting firm.