Scott tees up reform efforts in wake of women's prison allegations

Published: Dec. 23, 2019 at 4:57 PM EST
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In the wake of allegations of drug and sex abuse at Vermont's only women's prison, state officials are looking to the legislature to crack down on misconduct.

In a memo to Governor Phil Scott last week, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith outlined several changes to the Department of Corrections. Smith told WCAX Monday he wants a change of culture in corrections starting by holding those in power more accountable.

"Whether it's housing, drug abuse, these are issues that are fundamentally outside of corrections and we need to address it as an agency," Smith said.

Smith wants Vermont lawmakers to create mandatory drug testing for guards. Although it's already illegal for prison guards to have sex with inmates, he wants to expand it to those released on furlough and probation.

"It will be easier to prosecute people and subsequently that holds people more accountable," Smith said.

Previously, employees with several instances of misconduct would be dealt with behind closed doors. In some cases employees would be shuffled to different jobs without the public ever knowing about it. Smith says this practice has to end.

"What we need to do is make some of this as much as possible public in terms of what we're doing in terms of substantiated claims of misbehavior," Smith said.

To create real change, Smith also wants to bring in fresh faces to corrections and raise the bar for standards.

He is calling for diversifying the prison guard workforce by adding more women and more minorities, and to raise their pay.

"We have quite a bit of vacancies. We need to look at that. We need to look at a minimum standard, maybe even the salary that we're talking about in terms of how we move," he said.

Meanwhile, the state is still looking for a replacement for DOC Commissioner Mike Touchette who resigned last week. They hope to announce an interim commissioner by the end of next week.

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