Massachusetts is looking at the closure of the state's main prison for women, MCI-Framingham, by 2024. The Department of Correction says the prison is in poor condition. It could shut it down and move female inmates to renovated units at an unused facility in Norfolk. Elizabeth Matos is the executive director of Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts. She spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Arun Rath about the closure. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Arun Rath: MCI-Framingham opened in 1877. It's undergone renovations since then, but can you just tell us what kind of shape this nearly 150-year-old prison is in?

Elizabeth Matos: It's in pretty rough shape. We've heard complaints about the conditions at MCI-Framingham for a long time. There are mouse infestations. There have been repeated Department of Public Health violations. There have also been issues with cooling and heating systems, so in the winter, sometimes it's chronically cold and in the summer, chronically too hot. And we've also had reports of uncleanliness and sanitation issues in the kitchens. So women have been complaining about the conditions there for a while. And one other issue, and the reason for some of the recent renovations, is there have been detections of PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls], and women have complained about other kind of toxins at the facility.

Rath: The chemicals that are in certain plastics known to be harmful.

Matos: Yes. And there is a lawsuit by a woman representing herself on that issue. I know many of the women share the complaints that are articulated in that lawsuit.

Rath: These poor environmental conditions, do those pose any kind of problems for the staff there, the people that work there as well?

Matos: I would imagine the staff is also impacted by the poor conditions there. That might be one reason why they would want to do this. What I would say is that women deserve to be free from decrepit conditions, certainly. But I think we also need to ensure that state money and tax dollars are being spent wisely. There's a whole lot of money being put into this design plan and then the potential construction or I guess, seemingly, the confirmed construction of a new facility and all the renovations that will go into that. Recent numbers have about 160 women at MCI-Framingham, it's a relatively small population. And there are about 65 women being held at South Middlesex, which is right next to MCI-Framingham. It's a building that can actually house 185 women. It is not in such poor condition, and we've not heard the same complaints there. And there seem to be no plans to shut that facility down. So I think we really need to actually think about what the best use of resources is here, and especially because a number of the women at Framingham are actually pretrial, meaning they have not been convicted of a crime and many are just there because they can't post bail.

There are three populations at Framingham. So one is the state convicted women. Another is county convicted women. And then pretrial women, meaning they have not actually been convicted of anything and are awaiting trial. If we were to actually look at that population and reduce the number of pretrial women or get close to eliminating the number of pretrial women who are at Framingham, you would really have enough women potentially to just house everyone at South Middlesex and use the resources to really improve services and programming.

Rath: So does your organization, the Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts, or others, are you planning to advocate or do you have any path to advocate for a different plan than is being put forward?

Matos: I think we want more information. I can't say this isn't the best plan, but it strikes me as just one option that's being pursued and that perhaps there are other things that could be looked at. Also, this has all come out fairly recently. We haven't really had a chance to assess where women are at in Framingham and what they would want. And I would guess that they haven't been asked, either. So this brings up another issue, in that Framingham is centrally located towards the center of the state. And there are women housed in Framingham from all over the state. So moving women to Norfolk could really impact access to visitation for families because it's much more remote and it's not accessible by commuter rail like Framingham is. And we have to remember that these are women who are mothers, and they're desperately trying to maintain relationships and connections with their children. And moving them to Norfolk is just going to make that more difficult.