Courts & Corrections

Vermont finalizes prison contract with Pennsylvania

Lisa Menard
Lisa Menard, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
The state of Vermont announced a new agreement Monday to house several hundred prisoners at correctional facilities in Pennsylvania.

The three-year contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections will replace the current contract with the GEO Group for space in a Michigan facility, which expires in June.

According to the announcement from the Vermont Department of Corrections, the two states began exploring a potential partnership after the news in December that the GEO Group would not extend the arrangement with Vermont.

Under the new contract, up to 400 Vermont inmates could be held in two facilities — one in Camp Hill, the other in Graterford. The agreement requires the state to pay for beds for a minimum of 250 inmates, according to a Vermont DOC official.

The requirement raised concerns among some advocates that the state may stall on its recent goal of ending the use of out-of-state prison facilities for overflow. However, Vermont officials have said the state will not send inmates elsewhere just to meet the minimum requirement.

The new contract will cost more than the current one. Pennsylvania will charge Vermont $72 per inmate per day — up from $61.80 per day under the contract with the GEO Group.

However, during the search, officials said the effort to reach a new out-of-state prison contract was complicated by rising prices in the industry amid an expectation of increased demand due to changes in federal immigration policy under President Donald Trump.

With Vermont’s current out-of-state inmate population of 270, the contract will work out to about $7.1 million annually.

The three-year deal has an option for two one-year extensions.

Inmates will be moved to Pennsylvania from their current location in Michigan later this month or in June by ground transport, which is included in the contract.

Corrections Commissioner Lisa Menard said in a statement that the arrangement with Pennsylvania will mean out-of-state inmates are closer to Vermont.

“If Vermont cannot house all its inmates in-state due to a lack of beds in our system, we feel bringing them back to the Northeast is the next best thing, and we look forward to working with PADOC as a partner in that effort,” Menard said.

The secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, John Wetzel, said in the statement that his state has about 4,000 empty beds in correctional facilities.

“Vermont is looking for beds at the same time we are looking to fill beds, so this agreement benefits both states,” Wetzel said.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan, who has been an outspoken critic of the use of out-of-state prisons, said the agreement is an improvement because it is with another state, rather than a private corporation, and is closer to Vermont. He understands the contract includes an option to end the agreement with six months’ notice.

“Is this the perfect solution? No, it’s not,” Donovan said. “But given the challenges of the timing, this is as good as it’s going to get.”

He lauded Menard and Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille for setting up the agreement. However, he said, he will continue to work toward ending the use of out-of-state facilities.

“My goal is that any Vermonter that’s incarcerated is incarcerated within the state of Vermont,” Donovan said.

Suzi Wizowaty, of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, said the state could have avoided a new out-of-state contract by reducing Vermont’s incarcerated population through policy decisions.

“We had an opportunity this spring to not enter into a new contract, and it would not be that hard to do,” Wizowaty said. “We just apparently lack the political will.”

Wizowaty said the new contract with a public entity rather than a private corporation is a small improvement.

“It’s still bad policy,” she said. “It’s simply slightly less bad.”

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  • sandybettis

    Maybe if we had less inmates through more use of the release of non violent offenders and/or provided housing for those who are eligible for release, we wouldn’t need out of state, privatized, for profit prisons.

  • J Angus Munro

    Decriminalize Marijuana and pardon or commute all related sentences, re classify drug abuse as disease, institutionalize the sale of drugs and reclassify the sales and criminal use of drugs as rehabilitation and not state revenge (paying your dues for getting caught) and there would be no problem handling the true violent and career criminals Vermont produces.