Jail for Sale: Live in a Former New York State Prison


We're pretty liberal when it comes to alternative living situations (we've considered living in churches, abandoned public schools, Cold War-era nuclear missile silos), but these newly-listed properties understandably creep us out. After all, they are former prisons.

That's right, you too can live in a New York state correctional facility, even without a criminal record, thanks to a new-found glut of vacant prisons in the region. Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down seven of them, including three medium-security facilities, in order to save $184 million. Now the state of New York is selling off these unconventional properties to the public.

But despite some seriously impressive offerings across the state -- one former prison in Warwick, N.Y., (pictured below right) boasts lakefront views and even its own farm -- they're proving to be a hard sell.

"Who wants to buy a jail, you know?" Harold Vroman, chairman of the board of supervisors in Schoharie County (former home of the Summit Shock Correctional Facility), told The New York Times.

Still, history proves that the task can be done -- and well. Though New York state is new to the business of selling off old prisons, it's certainly not a new phenomenon. In fact, in the past it's proven to be quite the lucrative endeavor.

Just last year, we reported on the auction of the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas (which eventually sold for $6 million to a "private bidder"). Similarly, the former Charles Street Jail in Boston -- whose list of former inmates includes Malcolm X -- is now owned by MTM Luxury Lodging and has been converted into a luxury hotel where one can enjoy a cocktail called "Jailbait." Most famously, Virginia's former Occoquan Workhouse Prison was converted into a thriving, world-class arts center that supports and promotes local artists. (It's currently home to over a hundred studio artists).

In fact, these unconventional (read: creepy) for-sale properties seem to be flooding the market. In another extreme case, a six-story water tower in Steenokkerzeel, Belgium -- once used by Nazi occupiers as a watch tower in World War II -- hit the market just last month. And though the tower has been renovated to look penthouse-sleek, many are still spooked by the home's history. ("I wouldn't live there even if the Pope blessed this place," said one commenter. "Bad mojo being formerly owned by the Nazis.")

Unfortunately, it's the stigma such properties carry that poses the biggest problem. Some for-sale former correctional facilities, such as the Litchfield Jail in Litchfield, Conn., for example, have remained on the market for years without a bite, due to their undesirable penal history.

"Frankly, you have to be very, very visionary in order to see what can be done [with jails]," Perley Grimes of the Greater Lichtfield Preservation Trust told The Boston Globe. "When you go in there, it's kind of hard to envision any type of uses."

Not quite ready to live in a jail? That's OK -- New York state is also selling off the former residences of prison superintendents. According to The New York Times, properties to be auctioned off this summer include a 8,850-square-foot brick mansion in Auburn, N.Y., with eight bedrooms, six bathrooms and a barn-size garage.

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