The Department of Corrections expects to be able to return 46 prisoners from Kentucky by mid-January and in turn, save the state money, DOC Commissioner Andy Pallito said Thursday.
In addition, he said that Thursday was the first time since 2005 that the state’s total number of inmates dipped below 2,000.
DOC expects to be able to return some inmates because the number of people detained in Vermont before their cases are adjudicated has dropped from around 400 to around 340, Pallito said.
In addition, the department has focused recently on moving people onto furlough, he said. A new 20-bed transitional housing unit in Rutland will be coming on line in January, he said, which will help some of the more than 200 inmates currently eligible for release who are still being held because they have no place to live.
“It’s a coordinated effort between what happens in the court system and what the DOC does,” Pallito said.
This information comes after news broke last month of a June court decision that sending male, but not female, inmates out of state was unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, several groups have been pushing for a bill to end the practice of using out of state private prisons to house Vermont inmates.
Vermont has 426 prisoners in Kentucky right now and 36 in Arizona. It expects to drop the Kentucky population to 380 in January.
The DOC has a bus trip to Kentucky scheduled for the week of New Year’s, when it may be able to bring back 30 people, he said. Plans could change if there is a dramatic increase in the number of prisoners who enter the system between now and then.
The state does not want to bring home too many prisoners and perhaps create overcrowding if more new inmates enter the system, Pallito said. A transport to Kentucky costs around $10,000, he said.
Suzi Wizowaty, executive director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, said the good news about bringing people back is that medical care is better in Vermont.
“I think this will be good news for many families and I hope that it will be a better experience for the men coming back from Kentucky,” she said.
Some inmates prefer Kentucky, however, because there is less supervision. Some say they are treated poorly by Vermont corrections officers, said Wizowaty, who corresponds with many prisoners.
“I know that some men prefer Kentucky because they have more privileges there but it would be our hope that the conditions that men experience in Vermont will be more favorable and that they’ll be glad to be here,” she said.
Meanwhile, the corrections department is reviewing four bids for the out-of-state prison contract. The current contract with Corrections Corporation of America expires on June 30, 2015. Pallito said he expects to receive a memo from his staff in mid-January with a recommendation.
The state issued two requests for proposals, one for general population inmates and one for high-security inmates. It received four bids, two of which are only for high-security housing, Pallito said.
DOC officials now are visiting the proposed facilities, other facilities run by those companies and reviewing bids. The names of the bidders are confidential at this point.
The state would have to move prisoners in June or July if it switched to a contractor whose facilities were located elsewhere, Pallito said.
Vermont law does not require the state to choose the lowest bid. DOC uses a rating system that factors in price, quality, staff, medical care, food and other variables, Pallito said.
The contract with CCA costs the state about $12 million per year, but the state pays a per-diem rate based on the number of inmates held by CCA, so bringing some of them home would save money.
“Obviously, we’re looking at sites beyond CCA,” Pallito said.
The state is also transitioning to a new medical provider for inmates. The state’s five-year contract with Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions LLC ends this year. They are “pretty good, not perfect,” Pallito said.
A study released earlier this year showed Vermont has the second-highest health care spending per inmate in the nation, which in 2011 was $11,761 per inmate per year.
The medical contract transitions on February 1 to Centurion Managed Care, an Atlanta company for a three-year contract through January 31, 2018. It will cost about the same amount, around $19.5 million per year plus an additional cost for electronic health records.