In February 2018, the Vermont Department of Corrections (VDC) gave six months’ notice to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) that it was canceling a contract under which around 260 Vermont prisoners were incarcerated in the DOC.
The cancellation follows the deaths of three Vermont prisoners who were incarcerated at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute at Camp Hill and a flurry of complaints that DOC guards were threatening and abusing Vermont prisoners and denying them medical treatment.
In March 2018, Vermont Governor Phil Scott issued a request for proposals on housing the 260 prisoners. The next month, VDC met with potential bidders seeking to contract with the state to house its excess prisoners.
In June 2017, Vermont transferred its prisoner surplus from a private prison in Michigan to Camp Hill. However, its agreement with Pennsylvania to house those prisoners was not a traditional contract, but an interstate compact, which curtailed the ability of Vermont to set limits on how its prisoners are treated. This caused tension between Vermont and Pennsylvania after allegations of prisoner maltreatment surfaced.
“So the folks from Vermont are treated like they’re from Pennsylvania,” according to Vermont Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille. “We want to have some different things that are sort of Vermont desires that we would want to put in a contract, and we won’t be satisfied if we can’t have that.”
Vermont Defender General Matt Valerio has complained about DOC officials limiting access to Vermont prisoners and refusing to cooperate with his office in investigating prisoners’ complaints about DOC guards threatening them, physically abusing them and retaliating against them should they report the abuse. Information has even been withheld regarding the three prisoner deaths, which his office is charged with investigating.
“Every kernel of information that we get, we have to scrape and claw out of them,” Valerio said. “They don’t have any incentive or regard for our ability to investigate there, and it’s difficult. We’re an annoyance to them.”
DOC spokesperson Susan McNaughton said the Interstate Corrections Compact does not require them to coordinate reviews with Valeria’s office. That is the job of the VDC.
Vermont prisoner Roger Brown, 68, died of stage four metastatic lung cancer that was not diagnosed until mere days before his death at Camp Hill. Vermont prisoners’ rights advocates called the lack of palliative care for him tantamount to torture. A review of his death by VDC officials had not been completed six months after he died.
Vermont prisoner Timothy Hill fell ill at Camp Hill in September 2017. He was returned to Vermont, but died in November. Herbert Rodgers, another Vermont prisoner, died at Camp Hill of unspecified causes.
In one case, VDC officials Jeanne Jean and Kory Stone were visiting the section of Camp Hill where Vermont prisoners are housed when they witnessed “CO Sanchez” calling the Vermont prisoners “fucking pussies,” challenging them to come out of their cells and settle any issues they had with him, and calling one prisoner out of his cell individually. Yet Vermont Deputy Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette failed to mention this when addressing prisoners’ complaints about being threatened and abused at Camp Hill in January 2018. He merely claimed that he did not have enough information to do anything about the reported abuse.
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