By Wednesday, the Department of Corrections expects to have 360 inmates in the Kentucky facility it uses because of overcrowding in Vermont, and 40 inmates in Arizona, Commissioner Andy Pallito said.
In December, Vermont had 426 prisoners in Kentucky and 36 in Arizona. Another bus trip from Kentucky to Vermont is scheduled for Tuesday.
“It’s a good news story but it does create some conflict for the DOC,” Pallito said.
That’s because the state’s contract with private prison corporation Corrections Corp. of America includes the stipulation that CCA can impose penalties on the state if the number of prisoners from Vermont drops below 380, Pallito said.
Those penalties include moving the prisoners to another facility or moving other prisoners in with the Vermont inmates, he said.
Pallito acknowledged that the contract creates a disincentive for the DOC to bring prisoners home, but said it has not stopped the department from doing so.
The CCA contract is also up for bid Pallito said, which could make CCA loath to bite the hand that feeds it.
“I would think that they would want to not take a hard line on this issue at this point,” Pallito said.
DOC has narrowed four bids down to two: CCA and GEO Group, Inc., another large private prison contractor, he said.
Vermont has contracted to send prisoners out of state for the past 12 years and is finishing its third round of four-year contracts with CCA.
Pallito said the lower number of prisoners in Kentucky and Arizona should hold steady because the crime rate has been falling and courts are ordering fewer suspects to be detained before trial.
The 2014 average number of detainees per day was 414, Pallito said. Monday, it was 367, including 27 federal detainees.
Chief Superior Judge Brian Grearson said Monday that the court does not order judges to intentionally shrink the detention population, but he has noticed an overall decrease in inmates and is analyzing the trend.
At the same time, judges are concerned about not imposing bail if it’s unnecessary, said Grearson, who took over from Amy Davenport this month.
This news comes after a story in November about a June court decision that sending male, but not female, inmates out of state was unconstitutional and as the DOC prepares to present its FY2016 budget request to the state Legislature.
Pallito said fewer prisoners out of state will save the state money because it pays per inmate, per day.
Meanwhile, several groups have been pushing for a bill to end the practice of using out-of-state private prisons to house Vermont inmates.
“We are not doing this to artificially inflate the numbers in-state,” Pallito said.
A field representative for the state employees union reported that 30 inmates, returned from Kentucky, were sleeping on the floor of a prison gymnasium.
Vermont State Employees Association field representative Bob South said he visited the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield on Dec. 30 from about 7 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. and a guard told him the gym was full of inmates.
Pallito on Monday denied that inmates sleep in the gym. The superintendent of Southern State Correctional Facility, Mark Potanas, also said inmates are not housed in the gym.
“They may sit there for a day until they are picked up by the receiving facilities,” Potanas said in an email Monday. Potanas has had a rocky relationship with the state employees union.
“There’s nobody sleeping in the gym in Springfield,” Pallito said.