Courts & Corrections

Vermont must find new facility for its out-of-state prisoners

The company that incarcerates Vermont prisoners in Michigan has told the state it will not extend the current contract when it expires in June.

Currently, 265 Vermont men are held at the GEO Group’s North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan. The Vermont inmates are the only occupants of the facility.

Lisa Menard
Lisa Menard, commissioner of the Department of Corrections. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

The GEO Group notified officials with the Vermont Department of Corrections earlier this month that the company will not continue the arrangement, according to Commissioner Lisa Menard.

“While we are disappointed with GEO’s decision, we do recognize that we have less than 300 people in a facility designed for over 1,000,” Menard told VTDigger on Wednesday.

According to Menard, the state could amend the contract with the GEO Group if the company has space available at a different facility. Or the state may sign a new contract with another company.

In late June 2015, 280 Vermont inmates moved to the Michigan facility. The contract with the GEO Group was for two years with an option for two one-year extensions.

The North Lake Correctional Facility was built in the 1990s by the Wackenhut Corrections Co. (which has since become the GEO Group) for young offenders. But the prison was shuttered in 2005 and remained empty until the Vermont inmates arrived, save for a brief period in 2011 when inmates from California were held there.

The move required a change to Michigan state law to allow out-of-state prisoners with high-level security classifications to be held there.

Previously, Vermont contracted with the Corrections Corp. of America to house inmates out of state. Most were held at a facility in Kentucky, but some were in a higher security facility in Arizona.

The number of Vermont prisoners incarcerated out of state has declined significantly in recent years.

Vermont inmates who are sent out of state tend to be those with longer sentences. Reports from Vermont prisoners in Michigan earlier this year prompted concerns about the conditions there.

Menard said Wednesday the GEO Group has been “a good partner.”

“It is our plan to work with GEO, the inmates and the inmates’ families to ensure a smooth transition, and we will ensure inmates, their families and other stakeholders are kept updated as we move through this process,” Menard said.

A representative of the GEO Group confirmed the company’s intention not to exercise its renewal option for the contract to house Vermont inmates at North Lake.

“Over the last year and a half, our partnership has allowed the state of Vermont to meet its need for safe, secure and humane correctional management and rehabilitation services, and we look forward to working with the state of Vermont to ensure a smooth transition over the next six months,” said Pablo E. Paez, vice president of corporate relations for the GEO Group.

(This story was updated Dec. 28 at 6:40 p.m. with a statement from the GEO Group.)

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  • Peter Liston

    Stop with incarceration-for-profit. It’s insane.

    • Asher McLean

      Peter,

      While I agree with your sentiment, it’s also important to keep a sense of perspective regarding the total number of prisoners housed in private facilities. As of 2015, only 8% of the TOTAL prison population (state and federal) were in a private facility. This statistic includes those sentenced to home confinement or “halfway houses.”

      https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p15.pdf

      Although I do see it as a concern, it’s important to realize that a small minority of prisoners are kept in private facilities.

  • Dave Bellini

    People say Vermont is liberal. The legislature embraces: private for-profit prisons, private contractor inmate medical and employs temporary correctional officers. The would be “single payer” state is all about not providing benefits to full time full year state employees. They want mandatory paid family leave….but won’t give even one sick day to many prison employees.

    • Gary Murdock

      I’m confused, if your union endorses this legislature year after year, why aren’t you satisfied with the results? As a side comment, state employees can choose to not support the VSEA political activities and get a reduction in their dues. I would encourage any state employee that does not agree with the VSEA political activities to take advantage of this option.

  • edward letourneau

    No one is asking the critical question: Why is it cheaper to send criminals out of state, then it is to keep them here?

    • rosemarie jackowski

      Why is everything cheaper out of state? In the Albany area, two pairs of eyeglasses including an eye exam for $69, or two pairs of glasses at Boscovs for $99. In Vermont the price is 5 or 6 times that. Why?

      • Kim Hebert

        Perhaps the cost of doing business in Vermont is more expensive? Fewer customers with the same or higher overhead costs dictates higher prices if you want to stay in business.

    • Kim Hebert

      Edward the short answer to your question is the LAW. It is very expensive to operate a fully accredited fully operational prison facility 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

    • Peter Liston

      Assessment of costs should include the cost of recidivism. Private prisons benefit from recidivism. They have no incentive to truly rehabilitate prisoners in their care.

    • Doug Hoffer

      That is the perception, but it’s not that simple. As a rule, the prisoners sent out of state do not require the services we provide here (e.g., health, mental health, etc.). I can’t speak to GEO, but I looked at CCA some years back and they were basically warehousing people rather than providing a range of services. Therefore, the comparison is not apples to apples.

    • Kim Hebert

      I would like to see Vermont build a state of the art 1000 bed facility and contract out empty beds to other states instead of the other way around. Keeping the jobs in state, generating local tax payers and doing business with local companies is the best solution for the state. I understand this would take a long term commitment but it could be done. If not, than Vermont will keep sending inmates out of state along with its tax dollars. Pretty simple really.

    • Richard M Roderick

      Warehousing Prisoners cost less than rehabilitating prisoners.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Vermont has a way to go to catch up with this. Remember the Kids for Cash scandal. It happened in my home town in NE Pennsylvania. One innocent kid ended up committing suicide. Judges went to prison.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKrOXdCEF5A

  • Greg Moschetti

    This is a problem easily solved by identifying and paroling low risk inmates currently incarcerated in VT prisons to make space for those inmates incarcerated in Michigan

  • Peter Everett

    How about Guantanamo? It’s already there, mostly vacant. Prisoners have many amenities not found in other prisons. Weather is good, near the beaches. Not really like a maximum security hell hole that some are kept in. I’m sure the Federal government would like some help funding this institution.

  • Louis Meyers, M.D.

    As a former probation officer, I feel strongly that incarcerating prisoners out of state negatively affects reintegration and further destroys family ties. The only exception I would make would be for inmates with known local gang connections, and even some of these could remain here if they effectively end communication with gang members in the community.

  • Dave Bellini

    Private prisons are cheaper because they can refuse to take expensive inmates. If an inmate is too sick, too mentally ill, suicidal, too dangerous………… private prisons can reject them. Anyone can operate a prison for less if they can pick and choose who they take.

    • Dave, you have no clue what you speak. GEO has no say in who they receive. The current population at Michigan is in bad health and we have an in house state of the art medical department with infirmary and on site doctors to tend to those needs. Until you walk in the shoes of us at the facility, I suggest you watch what you open your mouth to. Thank you.

  • Ed Wendell

    Build a new energy efficient prison, hire and train locals to work there, provide jobs for Vermonters building and operating the prison. Realize increase to payroll taxes, income taxes, sales taxes and also added revenues to suppliers etc. Have nurses and a doctor for medical problems and use local hospitals when needed. The state should be shopping locally and 300 prisoners are a big expense.

    • Peter Everett

      Easier said than done. Nobody wants a prison in their town. If they were to build one where would it go? Suggestion…In MA two high school students found the solution when politicians could find one (does this amaze anyone?). The found a spot on the land between the north/south lanes on Rte 128. No town was effected and useless land was put to good use. Driving 89/91 I’ve seen various locations that could be used for many things. People fret about the “soul” of VT being decimated with growth. Why not save communities by utilizing this land? Sitting there, doing nothing when it could be used for good. Think outside the box to benefit the state and communities. What do we have to lose? Never happen because politicians didn’t think of it first. After all they are superior to the common folk.

  • My mother works at the GEO prison and I find it ridiculous that every time she goes back to work there, they end up closing… Again!

  • Matt Webb

    Didn’t NY just close a prison upstate? Could Vermont use it, or even run it? It’d be much closer for families and be in a public, non-corporate facility.

  • Paul Richards

    The last thing Vermont needs is to grow the monopoly and expand our prisons. If public sector unions were relegated back to illegal status where the belong, we could consider creating more jobs by expanding our prison system but as long as the taxpayers are forced to pay for the monopoly we have no choice but to farm out the job.