Update: For those finding this post afresh, please also read the following entry, which includes the response from the Department of Corrections.
Here’s a little goodie from Vermont’s Best Newspaper (Out Of State Division), the Valley News. Columnist Jim Kenyon has a problem with the whole concept of for-profit prisons…
The mere concept of for-profit prisons defies logic. [The operator] only gets paid when its prison beds are occupied. It’s not in the financial interests of the company — or its shareholders — to work toward keeping people out of prison.
… what elected officials don’t talk about much is the toll that being so far away from home can have on inmates, their families and their future. Elected officials also gloss over the reasons why GEO and other for-profit prison companies are less costly.
(Kenyon’s essay is behind a semi-permeable paywall. If you sign up for the Valley News email list, you can read up to five articles per month for free.)
Kenyon’s interest in the issue goes back almost 20 years, when he visited Vermont’s first proxy prison in Virginia. Yes, the outsourcing of prisoners is a sad legacy from the Howard Dean era. Currently, a few hundred Vermonters subjected to the tender mercies of a Michigan prison owned by The GEO Group, an operator of prisons that’s legally organized as a “real estate investment trust,” maybe for tax reasons or maybe because it looks better on a business card than “Mass Incarcerator of Persons.”
Anyway, Kenyon thought it’d be a good idea to actually visit the GEO facility in Michigan where Vermont inmates are imprisoned at Vermont taxpayer expense. On August 13, he made a formal request to then-Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito, in writing.
Two weeks ago, Pallito resigned from the DOC to become the state’s budget chief.
Finally, last week, after a more than one-month-long delay, DOC notified Kenyon that his request had been passed on to the GEO Group. Which is kind of a jaw-dropper.
Last Thursday, I emailed GEO’s headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., about setting up a visit. I haven’t heard back. Maybe I’d have better luck reaching them on Wall Street.
This is, to put it bluntly, a disgrace. How do state officials sit on a legitimate journalist’s request for so long? Why can’t they arrange a visit to Vermont inmates by a journalist who covers Vermont? Why pass the buck? What is the state, or its corporate contractor, trying to hide?
Note: I have requested comment from the Shumlin administration. This post will be updated when (if?) I hear back.