Big changes for Vermont's prison system. The Corrections Department is swapping populations at two facilities. But some say that won't fix all of the problems.
The female inmates are heading to South Burlington and the men to Swanton. The switch will be completed by mid-August, and for security reasons, Department of Corrections isn't divulging any specific details about the transfer. What's clear though is Vermont inmates will continue to shuffle until the state can get a handle on overcrowding.
About 2,100 Vermonters spend their days locked up behind bars. But Vermont only has space for about 1,500 men and 150 women.
"That means 550 people are housed out of state," Vt. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said.
Pallito says lifers go to Kentucky and Arizona, and 100 inmates doing shorter stints and requiring less services head to Greenfield, Mass., where it costs the state $52 a day to house them. That's nearly three times cheaper than incarceration in Vermont, where prisoners have access to programming, education and contact visits with family members. Last month those discrepancies sparked a dozen Vermont inmates in Massachusetts to riot.
"We owe Vermonters, prisoner or not, a minimum standard and in my book the Massachusetts prison does not live up to that," Barry Kade said.
Kade is an inmate advocate and lawyer. He says corrections had plenty of warning that unrest was brewing. He showed WCAX News dozens of inmate grievances about a lack of outdoor rec space, expensive phone calls and limited access to their legal papers. The threat of violence is clear in this grievance from February: "It's over. The Vermonters want out of here... we are prepared to go to any length. It would behoove you to heed this warning. It is the last one you will get."
Barry Kade: An inmate saying there are problems and basically they're not going to take it anymore.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: So, this is a threat to riot.
Kade: Basically, yes.
Pallito says the inmates destroyed $250,000 worth of furniture, sprinkler heads and surveillance equipment. Ultimately the bill goes to Massachusetts, but there could be fallout for Vermont.
"If we go into places and ruin them and they're left with the bill, it's going to make it harder to contract in the future," Pallito said.
The commissioner says a prison swap will alleviate some of that pressure. Transferring the men from Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility to Northwest State Correctional will free up 70 beds and allow corrections to bring 50 of the 100 Vermont inmates in Greenfield home. But not those involved in the riot. They now face felony charges in Massachusetts.
"We'll cut that population probably at least in half and then as we fill Massachusetts back up we'll try and stick with a six-month window," Pallito said.
But Kade says the swap doesn't address the lack of freedoms that Vermonters face across state lines and worries the situation on the inside will just get worse.
"Keeping people confined with nothing to do but boil in their own anger is not a way of fostering rehabilitation," Kade said.
Pallito says the department is working on the issue of outdoor space. Currently about 70 prisoners share a 40 by 40 covered rec deck. Pallito will be taking a trip to Greenfield in the next couple of weeks to investigate the cost effectiveness of paying Massachusetts to install outdoor recreation fields.
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