Vermont out-of-state inmates expected to move to Mississippi

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont corrections officials hope to finalize a deal this week to move about 228 state inmates housed in Pennsylvania to a privately run prison in Mississippi after complaints about abuse, poor medical service and several inmate deaths.

The inmates will move in October.

Corrections Commissioner Lisa Menard said Tuesday that she could not discuss where the inmates would be housed until the two-year contract is finalized. “I’m hoping this week that the contract will be signed,” she said.

The state had two bidders from which to choose: The Tallahatchie County Correction Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, run by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, and the corporation running the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

“I think it’s pretty sure” that the inmates will be moved to Mississippi, said Democratic state Sen. Dick Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who expected to get more details Thursday at a corrections oversight committee meeting. For two decades, Vermont has sent prisoners to facilities out of state to ease overcrowding. Three Vermont inmates have died at the Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, prison since they were first moved there in June 2017. A fourth died nearly two weeks after returning to Vermont, the Burlington Free Press reported.

The deaths have been reviewed but the results are confidential, Menard said.

The upcoming move has raised flags among inmate advocates who oppose housing inmates outside of Vermont, away from their families, particularly at private profit-making facilities.

“Now those inmates are going even further away, even further removed from their families, their support systems, the Vermont officials who are ultimately responsible for their welfare. And they’re going to the custody of a private prison company with a notorious record of abuse — hundreds of civil rights lawsuits against it,” said James Lyall, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. “And again, I think it just really underscores that this is a totally irresponsible and inadequate response to managing Vermont’s criminal justice system.”

CoreCivic said the ACLU made false allegations about it in a recent press release that it corrected.

“CoreCivic continues to help keep communities safe, enroll thousands of inmates in re-entry programs that prepare them for life after prison, and save taxpayers millions,” said Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs.

Sears said he wished it were different and closer to Vermont. He said the options were limited by a number of factors, including the small number that Vermont is sending out of state, and the state’s desire to have the inmates housed together and not mixed in with the general prison population.

“At this point we’re going to continue to try to reduce our reliance on out-of-state beds and hopefully get it to zero but that’s quite a challenge,” he said. Among the options are building a new facility for detainees and continuing to work on alternatives to prison sentences. Since 2008, the state has reduced the out-of-state prison population by over 500 people, he said.