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Scott says he should have seen inmate outbreak coming

Published: Aug. 4, 2020 at 5:33 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Gov. Phil Scott is accepting responsibility for not moving sooner to protect the health of Vermont inmates serving time in Mississippi.

For years, Vermont has had more prisoners than cell space, so the state contracts with out-of-state prisons.

Right now, 219 Vermonters are serving time in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, at a private prison run by CoreCivic.

At last count, 90 of them tested positive for the coronavirus. The state is awaiting the rest of the results.

COVID-19 is sweeping through Mississippi. That state has a 22% positivity rate compared to Vermont's rate of less than 1%.

With rampant community spread of the virus there, Scott admits Vermont should have done more to protect its inmates.

“In hindsight, you know, I should’ve seen this coming in some respects, but we were relying on CoreCivic to do the testing. They were testing with symptomatic cases and not and not throughout,” said Scott, R-Vermont.

Now, the state of Vermont is demanding the company that runs that prison gets the outbreak under control.

CoreCivic was following Mississippi state guidelines testing only symptomatic inmates.

But the Scott administration is telling CoreCivic all Vermont inmates and employees who work with them must follow Vermont's rules.

“We are now insisting that Vermont protocols being put in place by CoreCivic in Mississippi, those include testing the entire population and not just those showing signs of the virus. And that includes regular testing population on a rotating basis like we do here in Vermont. In Vermont, we have a rotating basis where we test one facility a week, a month,” Vt. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.

They are requiring all CoreCivic guards who interact with Vermont prisoners be tested.

Vermonters are being separated from other inmates and Vermont inmates who test positive are being separated from those who test negative.

The Scott administration says if we had more prison bed capacity here we wouldn’t have to ship our prisoners out of state. They point to a plan they floated two years ago to build a new prison campus with 925 beds. It would have housed men, women, federal prisoners and included a wing for inmates with critical mental health needs. The Legislature rejected it.

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