Corrections staff at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport have signed a letter of no confidence in the facility’s interim superintendent, Lori Madden, stating that she has created a “toxic environment” for staff and people incarcerated there.
The Vermont State Employees’ Association, which represents correctional workers at the prison, said in a press release that the letter, sent to Corrections Commissioner Nicholas Deml, comes from the facility’s frontline staff.
The letter alleges that Madden has failed to staff key positions, permitted untrained staff to work in security positions, and confined incarcerated individuals to their living unit without recreation opportunities, due to understaffing.
The union is calling on Deml to temporarily suspend Madden to investigate the claims laid out in the letter.
“If one of our members were accused of such serious incompetence, they would absolutely be relieved from duty while an investigation occurred,” Steve Howard, VSEA executive director, stated in the release. “For once, let this Administration lead by example.”
Howard said Monday that 66 of the 68 frontline corrections security staff members signed onto the letter, which was forwarded to the commissioner on Jan. 25. Howard said Deml met with security staff at the facility Friday “which I think was helpful.”
In an interview late Monday afternoon, Deml said that he is conducting a review into the allegations in the letter but has not suspended Madden.
“I was disappointed and troubled by the contents of the letter,” he said. “It’s always disheartening to get something like that, especially from line staff who are really putting it out there day in and day out.”
He said Madden wasn’t suspended since there are no specific allegations of misconduct.
“What we’re dealing with is concerns over leadership, concern over communications,” he said.
“That is something we take very seriously, it’s not to minimize it,” he added. “We wanted to make sure we did a thorough review before we made any leadership changes about the direction of Northern State.”
Madden has been the interim superintendent for about nine months, according to Deml. Scott Martin, who previously served as the superintendent, was removed from the post and placed on relief from duty status last year for “concerns about his leadership but also some allegations of misconduct,” the commissioner said.
Deml added, “I can’t go into that too deeply because there is an ongoing HR investigation, but, you know, I think concerns grew about his ability to lead that facility and certain decisions that were being made up there.”
Deml said he would relay a message seeking comment from Madden, but that message was not immediately returned as of late Monday afternoon.
VSEA has long criticized the corrections administration over staffing shortages across the prison system. Both Howard and Deml are set to testify Tuesday afternoon before the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions on issues related to staffing.
Asked about the timing of the letter, Howard replied, “I think our members had really decided that the public should know what’s happening in the Department of Corrections and what’s happening in the Newport facility particularly around safety.”
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