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.)

Elizabeth Hewitt

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