State calls on Kentucky prison to carry out staffing plan

Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito. VTD/Josh Larkin

Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito. VTDigger photo

A longer-than-usual lockdown of Vermont inmates in a Kentucky prison is prompting state officials to question whether there is adequate staff in that facility, Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said Thursday.

Since Jan. 15, 205 Vermont prisoners in a Beattyville, Ky., for-profit facilty have been locked in their dormitory after a series of assaults and fights, a DOC employee told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.

The state has developed a plan with the private company that runs that prison to remedy the situation is calling on the company to carry it out, Pallito said.

“We need to make sure they follow through on the plan,” Pallito said. He said the unusual length of the lockdown is allowing officials to gather information about the violence.

The lockdown was sparked by a series of incidents that included hitting, punching and one person who slashed another with a short “shank,” or homemade knife. The violence was not sexual, Pallito said.

DOC will also examine the number of staff at the Lee Adjustment Center, he said. Vermont facilities have one guard per unit, a DOC staff member told lawmakers Tuesday. In Kentucky, staff cycle between three pods.

The lockdown is now a “modified lockdown,” a spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America, which operates the prison, said Thursday. That means inmates are given limited time outside their cells daily in the “day room areas.”

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the lockdown was precautionary and allows CCA and DOC officials to review the reported events and enhance security to avoid future problems.

“CCA is firmly committed to providing safe, secure housing and high-quality rehabilitation and re-entry programs to the Vermont inmates,” Owen wrote in an emailed statement.

The incidents in Kentucky appear to be gang- or debt-related, Pallito said between two hearings on a DOC budget adjustment request Thursday.

“(The incidents) happen quick, which is always why it’s the hardest to ferret out,” Pallito said.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Defender General on Thursday said supervision in the Kentucky facility is more relaxed than in Vermont prisons.

Matthew Valerio called Lee Adjustment Center a “reasonably stress-free environment to do time in,” largely because there are fewer rules to enforce.

“Every so often sometimes the issues are personal, sometimes they rise to ‘potential gang-like stuff’ but every now and then something bubbles up and you have an incident or two,” he said.

Investigators and lawyers from the Defender General’s Prisoners’ Rights Office visit the Kentucky prison three or four times a year and plan to do so in early March, Valerio said.

He said nothing major has changed in the past decade at the 816-bed Kentucky facility, which right now only houses Vermont inmates.

Valerio said his staff told him the recent violence might have been sparked by personal issues between new prisoners coming from Vermont and those who have been in Kentucky for awhile.

“People trying to mark their territory, so to speak,” Valerio said.

He said the so-called gang affiliations might be more of a label than a reality.

In all, there are 460 Vermont prisoners in Kentucky. There are 39 Vermonters at a prison in Arizona. Prisoners sent to Kentucky are often those without special medical needs who simply must serve time, Valerio said.

The most frequent complaint his staff hears from inmates at all facilities, local and out-of-state, is that prisoners’ medical needs are not being addressed, Valerio said.

The practice of sending prisoners out of state, which started under former Gov. Howard Dean, is controversial. Although it saves the state money, some lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to stop the practice.

“I think that we’d all rather have them back in Vermont if we had our druthers, but politically and fiscally we’ve got to figure out how to do that and nobody’s been able to figure that out for a long time,” Valerio said.

Pallito said lockdowns happen frequently in Kentucky and especially in Vermont facilities.

“We do lockdowns in a Vermont correctional facility monthly, I’d say,” Palito said.

The state’s contract with CCA is set to expire in June 2015 and must be put out to bid, according to Richard Byrne, the DOC out-of-state unit supervisor who spoke to the House Corrections and Institutions Committee on Tuesday.

Laura Krantz

Comments

  1. Jim Barrett :

    Vermont prisoners should be held in Vermont and not at some distant location with no oversight by Vermont. The state hasn’t a clue as to what is going on and now must send people to discover how it operates. Vermont doesn’t like to care for their own problems because tourists wouldn’t want to see a prison here. I have been told The prison facility on Swift street in Burlington is a total mess and that is right under our noses.

    • Pat McGarry :

      There is no prison nor other DOC facility on Swift Street.

    • Pat McGarry :

      Swift Street does pass the DOC facility at 7 Farrell Street in S. Burlington.

      Female inmates are treated better there then male inmates were a few years ago.

      Things are not “a total mess”. The facility has amenities- a gym, a weight room, a library, and an outdoor recreation yard which are not used much because VT DOC doesn’t have the funds t pay enough Corrections Officers to supervise the inmates while they use those facilities. That is true at all VT DOC facilities- the result is boredom- the inmates are warehoused, and have nothing to do.

  2. David Black :

    If you like your prison inmates, you can keep your prison inmates.

  3. Janice Prindle :

    I dislike the attitude behind Mr. Black’s comment. I’d turn it around: If we keep our inmates, we can like our inmates. That is, if we are committed to prison as an opportunity for rehabilitation, for learning and developing new skills that will keep people on the right track when they leave prison, we have to bring them home. The money wasted on the “profit” part of “for profit” prisons could be far better used expanding the prisons we already have — and why not use prisoners as the workforce, to teach them valuable skills? Or draw on the skills some probably already have.
    It isn’t money that’s the problem, as Mr. Barrett observes: it’s a lack of political will, the attitude that Mr. Black expresses, of contempt for human beings who find themselves in this situation. I hope he has plenty of blessings to count, as most inmates do not and have never had. The decency of our society is measured by how decently we treat the most vulnerable. Not to mention our common sense: the worse we treat prisoners, the more likely we will end up with angrier, more disturbed people being released from prison without a clue how to make a better life among us.

    There are good reasons why people end up in prison.We tend to think of them all as rapists and murderers, but that is so far from the truth. Plenty are so-called white collar criminals or are in prison due to our self-defeating “war on drugs,” criminalizing poverty and addiction instead of focusing on the root causes. Not to mention racism and class bias within the justice system, even here in Vermont. Separating prisoners from their families and communities increases the odds that upon release, and most will be released eventually, that person will lack enough support to make a good life for himself and will fall back to crime.

  4. Robert Appel :

    20 years ago, Vermont’s total prison population was roughly equal to the number of inmates that we now send out of state, along with our general fund dollars and our ability to monitor and oversee how Vermont offenders are treated. If we committed additional effort, training, commitment and housing opportunities to safely transition inmates who have served their minimum sentences back into the communities from which they came, we would not be spending the many millions to line the pockets of CCA shareholders. The same is true with DOC contracting for medical and mental health services for inmates with out-of-state for profit entities instead of utlizing our own community based non-profits who serve the same population when they are not incarcerated. The Legislature needs to rein in these unwarranted exports of precious VT general fund dollars that should be providing income and support to our local economy.

    • Timothy Burgess :

      Thank you Mr. Appel for telling it like it is

  5. So wait — dumping our problems off on Kentucky is NOT a viable solution?

    Who could have known.

  6. Marguerite Rosenthal :

    There is a lot of research (see http://www.grassrootsleadership.org, for example) that documents the terrible record that private prisons have in mistreating prisoners, providing inadequate if not malfeasant health care (health care for prisoners is a Constitutional right), and contributing campaign contributions to make sure their beds are filled (increasing prison sentences, electing officials who support privatization, e.g.).
    Beyond these and other alarming problems, prisoners from Vermont who are locked up in Kentucky lose contact with their families; maintaining contact is documented to decrease the likelihood of recidivism.

    What is the progressive state of Vermont doing? Let’s make sure that contract is NOT renewed in 2015,, and bring back as many Vermonters as possible and as soon as possible.

  7. sandra bettis :

    another great example of for profit privatized prisons. of course, when you try to put one in vt, the nimby people come out of the woodwork….

  8. Pat McGarry :

    Robert Appel-

    You recently raised the issue of equal protection involving the differences in the rapid intervention programs in Chittenden and Addison Counties.

    Since male inmates from Vermont are shipped to KY & AZ, and female inmates are not, isn’t that an equal protection violation?

    Since male inmates in a Vermont prison can marry a same gender spouse, but those shipped to KY & AZ can’t, isn’t that an equal protection violation?

    Since felins in Vermont prisons may vote, and those shipped to KY & AZ may not, isn’t that an equal protection violation?

  9. Dave Bellini :

    The inmates currently lodged at CCA’s prison in Kentucky are not serving sentences of life without parole. They will be out eventually and back in society in Vermont. Since they ARE getting out, it’s best that they come out ready to be productive, law abiding, citizens. This is far less likely to happen if they are separated from their families and isolated 1000 miles away in a big box prison. They are more likely to re-enter society in Vermont as a “gang-banger” and more likely to be anti-social. Family and community contact lead to better outcomes. We live in the most liberal state in America yet we throw people away because politicians think this is saving money. It is not. Factor in the costs of transportation, the lost jobs and tax dollars shipped to Kentucky and it’s a loser.
    .
    “We need to make sure they follow through on the plan…” TRANSLATION:

    The state of Vermont has to babysit CCA.

    • Pat McGarry :

      Dave- there are a lot of Vermont inmates in the CCA facility serving 20 to life. Since under Vermont law, an offender has no liberty interest in parole nor release before he has served his maximum sentence, Vermont DOC releases individuals serving a maximum sentence of life on a discretionary basis.

      Nit surprisingly, after Michael Jacques murdered his niece in 2006, Vermont DOC and the Parole Board haven’t released very many murderers after they’ve served their minimum sentence.

      Habitual offenders serving a life sentence as a maximum are not getting released too often, either.

      Your comment makes some very good points about prisoners who will be released losing touch with family members.

      However, since all of the Vermont DOC facilities for male inmates are essentially full, Vermont would have to build one or more new facilities, unless they released > 400 inmates en masse. That would take a while to do.

      • Dave Bellini :

        Vermont has made a series of stupid decisions regarding prisons.
        .
        The growth of inmates was predictable however Vermont built ridiculously tiny prisons over the last 35 years. Politicians ignored DOC employees. What’s new. The current design is idiotic. VT consistently underbuilt. We only need 2 or 3 prisons in a state so small. The big winner is Corrections Corporation of America. Also your tax dollars are providing jobs in Kentucky.

  10. Connie Godin :

    Vermont should not be encouraging private prisons by using them. CCA is a money making machine, it’s all they care about. Having prisoners so far from their families is wrong. Also they come back different people, they think their gangsta’s and that’s not good for them or us.

  11. Fred Woogmaster :

    vermontprisonwatch.blogspot.com

    “Vermont: One Tiny State’s Movement to Ban Private Prisons” is quite interesting.

  12. Connie Godin :

    There are only Vermonters in this Kentucky facility because Kentucky won’t send their people there. Tell you anything.

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