Prison reform advocates rally at Statehouse

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 4:47 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Seven deaths at Vermont prisons this year -- six of them at the Springfield prison -- have some Vermonters pushing for the state to take action.

Vermonters gathered at the Statehouse Thursday afternoon calling on lawmakers to exert more oversight of the Department of Corrections. The biggest change activists say they are hoping to see is a new in-state health care provider for Vermont’s prisons. They say the for-profit model the state has been relying on is what’s killing inmates.

DOC Commissioner Nick Deml last week attributed the fatalities to an aging population who may have not had decent health care before they were incarcerated.

But attendees of Thursday’s rally tell a very different story, saying the issue goes beyond Springfield. A woman named Janet says her partner has had several MRSA infections that went untreated or mistreated while incarcerated. She says they’ve filed complaints but haven’t gotten any substantiative response. “I have seen a lot of being jaded and complacent and power struggles between inmates and the corrections officers. The whole thing needs an overhaul,” she said.

“Getting profit out of the equation would be a really big step in improving health care because there wouldn’t be any profit motive and denying people care,” said Ellen Schwartz with the Vermont Workers Center.

DOC officials say there’s been no misconduct that led to any deaths at the Springfield prison, although three of the deaths are still under investigation.

The DOC this month signed a contract with Wellpath, a Tennesee-based health care provider.

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