Former US attorney to lead women's prison investigation

Published: Dec. 27, 2019 at 1:35 PM EST
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A former U.S. Attorney and a former state police commander will lead the state's investigation into alleged sexual abuse and drug use by corrections officials at Vermont's prison for women.

Agency of Human Service Secretary Mike Smith Friday named Tristram Coffin to head up the investigation in the wake of the allegations at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility first raised in a report by Seven Days earlier this month.

Coffin, who currently works at the law firm of Downs Rachlin Martin, is expected to begin his investigation next week.

"He will have investigators that will go into the various facilities here, so I think that investigative background is important to me at least and able to ferret out what are the issues and how do we address these issues in corrections," Smith said.

Smith says the state's contract with the investigative firm is capped at $100,000 over four months.

Smith also named former Vermont State Police Colonel Jim Baker to take over as interim corrections commissioner. Baker most recently retired as Rutland's police chief.

The moves come after Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette announced last week he was stepping down. He made no mention of the women's prison allegations, saying he was leaving to find a better balance between work and personal life.

The Seven Days report claimed female inmates and officers at the prison have said it’s not uncommon for guards to sexually abuse inmates, harass female employees and pursue sexual relationships with women who have left the prison but remain on probation. They say that abuse has been going on for years.

Smith has said he would like a report from the new team by April.

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