(Burlington, VT) — The Vermont Department of Corrections announced today the signing of a new contract with private, for-profit prison corporation, the GEO Group, to house Vermont prisoners at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, MI. Vermont prisoners currently housed in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) prisons in KY and AZ will be transferred to the Baldwin facility this summer.
Though not unexpected, the state’s decision to enter into a new private prison contract to house prisoners across state lines is highly disappointing, according to state and national advocates who oppose the practice of shipping prisoners out-of-state far from family and community. Last year Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform and Grassroots Leadership, coordinators of the Locked Up and #ShippedAway Campaign, released a report that sheds light on both the financial and emotional costs to families of Vermonters sent out-of-state, including testimony from prisoners and their family members. (Read it online here: http://nationinside.org/campaign/shipped-away/facts/)
“The sad thing is, it’s completely unnecessary,” said Suzi Wizowaty, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform executive director. “We know how to reduce the prison population in a way that will increase public safety. If we only had the political will, if we made it a priority, we wouldn’t have to ship anyone out of state.”
With the current out-of-state population of 318, the anticipated annual cost for the new contract for FY16 is $7,173,126, not including other cost considerations, according to the Vermont Dept. of Corrections. It is a two-year contract with two possible one-year extensions.
“From what we have seen, there is very little difference between CCA and GEO,” said Holly Kirby, Grassroots Leadership’s criminal justice organizer. “Both companies rake in billions in imprisonment each year despite having track records riddled with scandals and prisoner abuse. Sending Vermont prisoners to a GEO prison in Michigan is a move in the wrong direction.”
“It’s true that Baldwin is slightly closer than Kentucky,” says Wizowaty. “But the distance is still prohibitive for many families. Vermont DOC knows this and apparently will provide free video conferencing for families, but that’s a small bandaid on a very large problem.”
H.221, developed by the legislative task force of VCJR and introduced by Rep. Mollie Burke (P/D Brattleboro) in the past session, would make sending men out of state unnecessary, according to Wizowaty. One small section of the bill, which banned juvenile life without parole and was duplicated in H.62, became law last week. The rest of the bill remains “on the wall” for the next session.
“There’s no excuse for delaying major reform,” Wizowaty says. “Look what’s happening all over the country.” She points out the new Coalition for Public Safety involving the ACLU and the Koch Brothers, and the collaboration among Van Jones, Newt Gingrich and others, all designed to reduce the prison population by 50% in ten years. “We could do it in one or two, and never have to send men out of state again.”