The team also stressed that the explosive overcrowding in Vermont's prisons is in large part caused by Department of Corrections officials and prison staff. "Prison staff has virtually unbridled power to arbitrarily force prisoners to `max out' their sentences," said team attorney Margaret Winter. "They use this power to force hundreds of inmates into highly controversial behavior modification programs. These programs not only waste precious corrections resources, they also violate the human dignity of both prisoners and prison staff." For example, one of Vermont's so-called "self-change" programs which the ACLU team is investigating reportedly includes mandatory masturbation sessions, and mandatory recounting of sexual fantasies in group sessions of inmates, guards, and female caseworkers. Inmates are also required to view pornographic pictures while a device called the penile plethysmograph, attached to the inmate's penis and monitored by a caseworker, supposedly measures the inmate's sexual arousal. "We believe the people of Vermont will feel as much revulsion as we did when they learn what their tax dollars have been buying," said Winter.
According to team lawyer Marjorie Rifkin, the National Prison Project's investigation has prompted Corrections Commissioner John Gorczyk's recent push in the legislature for more money to open more prisons. "We see the Corrections' response as an attempt to manipulate the people of Vermont into pouring more money into an already mismanaged system," said Rifkin. "Better that the state should spend its scarce corrections resources on improvements in the delivery of desperately needed health care services."
"One way or another, we hope by negotiation but if necessary by litigation, we are committed to help bring about far-reaching change in Vermont's prisons, and we intend to move ahead quickly," said attorney Margaret Winter.
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