Crime and Justice

Ten inmates in Mississippi returning to quarantine in Vermont

prison commons
A common area for prisoners in the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility. Courtesy photo

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The Vermont Department of Corrections is moving 10 inmates who are currently housed at a private prison in Mississippi and nearing the end of their sentences back to Vermont to quarantine in a St. Johnsbury facility. 

The 10 Vermont inmates, who are among 246 currently held at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, will be brought back to the state on Tuesday by bus. 

Then, in accordance with Gov. Phil Scott’s Covid-19 measures, they will be quarantined in the DOC’s work camp building in St. Johnsbury for 14 days, and tested for the virus before they are sent to other facilities within the state prison system. 

The work camp, where the Mississippi inmates are being transported, is located next to the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury, and typically holds lower-level offenders who can earn time off their sentences by working on projects in the community.

It has more than 100 beds, but has been empty since DOC moved its Covid-19 surge facility to the neighboring prison. 

The Caledonian Record first reported on the inmate move Wednesday. 

So far, two Vermont inmates in the Mississippi prison have been tested for Covid-19, and none have contracted the virus, according to Al Cormier, DOC’s facilities executive. 

Cormier said that monthly transports of inmates from the Mississippi facility to Vermont are normal, but were put on hold for the last two months because of the pandemic. 

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“The majority of the moves we make on a monthly basis are bringing people back so that they can get ready for release, get ready to max out, released to probation, or prepare them for programming,” Cormier said. 

There has been a Covid-19 outbreak at the Mississippi prison, but not in the unit where Vermont inmates are held. 

Cormier said five or six inmates in a separate U.S. Marshals Service unit have contracted the virus. But he said these inmates have no contact with the Vermont unit. 

In Vermont, a total of 45 inmates have contracted the virus, but almost all of them have recovered. 

All of the inmates who have contracted the virus were being held at the Northwest State Correctional Facility, where there was a major outbreak in April, in St. Albans.

There are now only eight inmates who contracted Covid-19 being held in the DOC’s “surge facility” which is housed at the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury. 

After quarantining and testing negative for the virus, those inmates will be returned to other facilities. 

Earlier this week, the department said it would expand its mass testing of inmates and staff.

Speaking on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show on Friday, Jim Baker, the interim commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections, said he feels “very comfortable” with the department’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, especially looking at other correctional systems in the U.S. — many of which continue to struggle with outbreaks. 

“I’m pretty proud of the work staff has done and I feel very comfortable where we are in this process,” Baker said.  “But there is no time to let up, we need to stay focused.”

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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