It may come as a surprise that some Vermont inmates prefer to “go out of state.” It certainly comes as no surprise, given the abysmal conditions in Vermont’s prisons, that people convicted in our state want to be housed any place that is not home. I have been in both state prisons and housed out of state in for-profit facilities. I speak with some knowledge of both. It’s a fair question as to why anyone sentenced in Vermont wants to be far away.
Let’s start with a little history. The premise of shipping Vermonters to out-of-state facilities was to alleviate overcrowding in our state. It was never intended to be more than a temporary situation, but it has become permanent, thanks to our legislature. Forget that there are family members who are unable to visit, or who are limited to a few visits a year, if that.
Since its inception, out-of-state, for-profit prisons, as placement has been a point of contention. Since 2011, there have been seven bills to address the issue of sending inmates out of state. All these proposed legislative bills have been sent to the Corrections and Institution Committee in the House of Representatives, and died. They have not received so much as a hearing. Congratulations, Montpelier, for your lack of leadership.
Now, let us address the elephant sitting before us in this discussion. I have heard the counterarguments that “inmates prefer to be housed out of state, it’s better time, less restrictive.” In 2006–2008 I was in Kentucky serving my time. Forget the multiple abuses suffered by many in these facilities, forget for a moment that my family who visited every week while I was in Vermont were only able to visit twice. Let’s attempt to focus on the so-called advantages. Access to private TV’s and game systems, if one can afford it, makes serving time out of state better, supposedly. In reality the guards at these facilities were paid a whopping $7.25 an hour. Their lack of empathy and turning their backs on physical and mental abuses was rampant. Having discussed these issues with the warden in Kentucky, his response was, “Well, if Vermont were a civilized place to do time, you wouldn’t rely on us.” True. So, there is a systemic issue that should be addressed, if the leaders in Montpelier ever held a hearing and took action.
Having testified at multiple hearings on other corrections-related issues, I have found that the patronizing attitude of our Vermont legislators towards the many, many issues that the Vermont Department of Corrections faces is insulting. It contributes to the idea for our sentenced population to want to be anywhere but a Vermont prison. These “experts” in the State House, who’ve never been incarcerated and who make decisions on what’s best for inmates, have less than a clue as to the deplorable and toxic atmosphere faced by those housed in these human kennels that are private prisons. If it is a reality that, “those closest to the problem, are furthest from the solution,” the senators and representatives may want hear from, and take action for, those impacted by the decision, including family members. It’s a valid question to ask, how much testimony has been heard from families and those housed out of state? Oh! Wait, the bills to end the practice have never been given a hearing, so forget the question.
Well, the use of for-profit entities in the corrections arena, which takes people and jobs out of state, seems to be here to stay. Let’s not address that it separates families, or that the practice has been rejected by 22 States, and the Federal Government. Let’s just keep allowing the people who have no knowledge of the issue continue to do what’s “best” for Vermonters. After all, the current class of legislators will proudly tell you that Vermont has reduced the prison population in the last ten years. So, why are we still practicing the use of private prisons? You decide.
— Tim Burgess, Vermont Cure
The current bill, “An act relating to prohibition on the transfer of Vermont inmates to an out-of-state correctional facility,” H.326, is in committee. Contact your representatives and ask them to support this bill.
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