[O]ne month after Vermont inmates arrived at a privately run prison facility in northern Michigan, an inmate is voicing concerns about the conditions there.
Gordon Bock, director of the Vermont chapter of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, is circulating a four-page letter written by a member of Vermont’s out-of-state prison population reporting on the conditions at the new facility.
The state recently terminated a contract with the Corrections Corporation of America, and began using a new for-profit prison company, the GEO Group Inc., based in Michigan.
Last month, 280 Vermont prisoners were transferred by air from two facilities in Kentucky and Arizona to a single correctional facility in Baldwin, Michigan.
The letter, penned earlier this month by Shaun Bryer, brings up more than a dozen complaints about conditions in North Lake Correctional Facility. Bryer reports that he collected comments and questions from other inmates. Bryer, a former third grade teacher at a Morrisville elementary school, was convicted of sexually assaulting two of his male students. He molested the boys at his apartment over a two- to three-year period.
Bryer writes that there was no process for sick calls when inmates first arrived, and that medical services are not available at all on weekends and holidays. There are no windows in the building, and inmates get one hour of outdoor recreation a day, Bryer says.
Some items in the commissary cost double what they did at the CCA facility in Kentucky, according to Bryer, and he says there are no curtains for the showers.
Bock, a prisoner advocate, says the letter raises concerns about the condition of the prison and the well-being of the Vermont inmates housed out of state.
“I worry about what the atmosphere is like there,” Bock said.
Bock said that he is concerned that out-of-state prisoners are getting less access to sunlight and the outdoors than those in Vermont correctional facilities.
“It’s the latest in 18th century penal thinking to put people in dungeons,” Bock said.
Andy Pallito, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said so far the major complaints he had heard from inmates housed at the Michigan facility were related to access to ice machines, microwaves and handling of personal property.
Bryer’s letter was the first report he had heard about limited access to medical service, and Pallito said that raised concerns.
The contract the state has with GEO specifically requires that the facility meet standards set by the American Correctional Association, Pallito said.
The conditions at the Michigan facility are likely to be a topic of discussion when the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee, a panel of lawmakers that convenes outside of the legislative session, meets next month.
Pallito said the department is committed to being “open” about practices both in in-state prisons and in the out-of-state facility. To that end, the department is planning to fund trips by the prisoner’s rights office to the Michigan prison, following a reduction in the out-of-state travel budget for the Defender General’s Office, Pallito said.
So far, Pallito said the relationship between the DOC and the GEO Group has been fairly successful, though the contract is still new.
“They’re very responsive at this point,” Pallito said. “It’s going to be judged on the totality of the relationship, not just the first 30 days.”
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