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VT Class Action Suit

On December 13, 1993, lawyers from the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, together with Vermont attorneyMitchell Pearl of Langrock, Sperry and Wool, filed a class action lawsuit against the State of Vermont on behalf of all Vermont prisoners. Filed in federal district court in Burlington, the suit, Goldsmith v. Dean, seeks an end to the unconstitutional deprivation of such basic human needs as medical and mental health treatment and safe environmental conditions. The case also challenges two behavior modification programs as sadistic and pseudo-therapeutic.

"Medical and mental health care in the prisons are dangerously deficient," reported National Prison Project attorney Marjorie Rifkin. "Prisoners and prison staff in Vermont's overcrowded facilities are exposed to infectious diseases including tuberculosis. Those with chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease get sicker due to inadequate medical treatment. We hope that our legal action now will prevent prison conditions from getting worse as the population expands. Ultimately, the Department's failure to treat prisoners' medical and mental health problems increases the costs and risks to the community when prisoners are released," according to Rifkin.

Among the behavior modification programs challenged in the law suit is the Vermont Treatment Program for Sexual Aggressors (VTPSA). According to the complaint, it is forced on many prisoners who have never been convicted of, or even charged with, a crime of sexual aggression. The complaint alleges that prisoners in the program must periodically submit to having their genitals attached to a penile plethysmograph, a gauge to measure their sexual arousal, while they are subjected to slide shows and soundtracks portraying "deviant" sex acts, such as violent rapes and sex with children. Prisoners in the VTPSA are also required to masturbate until ejaculation while voicing "acceptable" sexual fantasies, and then to continue masturbating for an additional hour while voicing "deviant" fantasies. These sessions are tape-recorded and played to other inmates and staff. If prisoners' "deviant" fantasies are deemed to be insufficiently graphic or lewd, then VTPSA staff accuse them of being "in denial" and therefore ineligible for parole. Prisoners are further required to confess to sex crimes, unproven and uncharged, with no grant of immunity from prosecution, and are considered "in denial" if their confessions do not conform to the "correct" versions dictated to them by staff.

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Related legal case

Goldsmith v. Dean