Tag Archives: Alice Emmons

Vermont’s Female Inmates Shouldn’t Expect Sanitary Facilities Anytime Soon

The good news: The Scott administration’s capital spending request includes money for a new women’s prison.

The bad news: It’s gonna take years for anything to actually happen.

The proposed capital bill would allocate $1.5 million over the next two fiscal years toward a replacement for the outdated and unsanitary Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, a.k.a. the state women’s prison. That money is nothing more than a down payment; the stated purpose is for “Planning and Design, Outside Consultants.”

That’s right, at least two years of planning lies ahead before anything concrete will be done.

As a reminder, the Seven Days expose that started all this was published more than a year ago, and included this lovely nugget:

Soon after women prisoners were moved to the South Burlington facility in 2011, a group of local nonprofits documented the presence of worms and drain flies in the showers, inadequate heating and cooling systems, and a dearth of toilets. In a report released last month, Vermont Interfaith Action described a “depressing, hopeless atmosphere” within the prison.

Everyone agrees that the women’s prison is kind of a hellhole, but the inmates will just have to be patient, won’t they?

After the jump: Work begins on legislation to address the DOC’s dysfunctional culture.

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For the Women’s Prison, a long slog to respectability

Best room: Karen Dolan, effective minimalist backdrop and good facial lighting. Worst: Tie between Marcia Martel and Linda Joy Sullivan. Bad lighting, odd backdrop, and up-the-nostril camera positioning.

The House committee that oversees the state prison system got its first look today at a devastating report on the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, a.k.a. the state women’s prison.

The report by the law firm Downs, Rachlin and Martin was commissioned following a December 2019 investigative piece by Paul Heintz, then working for Seven Days. It unveiled widespread sexual misconduct and drug use between prison staff and inmates. Indeed, at today’s hearing, Acting Corrections Commissioner James Baker credited the Seven Days expose for bringing the issues to light.

The DRM report, released in December, confirmed the substance of Heintz’ story. Today, DRM presented the report to the House Corrections & Institutions Committee. All parties expressed a resolve to fix the problems at the prison, but emphasized that it’s going to take time — and to some degree, progress depend on state investment in personnel, training and facilities, at a time when money is extremely tight in Montpelier.

Jen McDonald, a partner at DRM, said misconduct has occurred “to a significant degree” in recent years; that many incidents are never reported through DOC channels because of “a belief of inaction” on inmate allegations (indeed, DRM staff uncovered many alleged incidents of misconduct that were never officially reported); and that training on sexual harassment is not mandatory — something that came as an unpleasant surprise to McDonald. She also told lawmakers that she was shocked at the antiquated, unsanitary conditions in CRCF, which were not within the scope of DRM’s work.

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If I hear someone say “a few bad apples,” I’m gonna scream

The Vermont Department of Corrections (Not Exactly As Illustrated) (Or Maybe It Is)

As Vermont’s prison scandal continues to spread and deepen, I find myself pondering a simple question:

How are the Democrats going to handle this?

The latest in this head-spinning affair is the indefinite suspension of the top two officials at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. DOC Commissioner-For-Now Mike Touchette announced the suspensions in a Friday newsdump. He didn’t explain the reasons — but dollars to donuts it’s no coincidence that the action comes a few days after Human Services Secretary Mike Smith launched his own investigation, which initially (at least) focused on the state’s only women’s prison.

And while we wait for more dominoes to fall, let’s consider that the scandal puts the Democrats in a tight spot. At first glance, you might think they’d be rarin’ to dig up a nice juicy election-year scandal that might put a few dents in Gov. Phil Scott’s Teflon.

But maybe not.

Some factors to consider. Former DOC commissioner Lisa Menard served from 2015 to 2018. Yep, she was appointed by Democrat Peter Shumlin. She and Touchette are longtime veterans of the department, who rose through the ranks under Democratic and Republican governors. The documented problems at the women’s prison go back to at least 2012, which would be Shumlin’s first term. This scandal may have blown open on Scott’s watch, but it’s really a bipartisan issue.

The potential principals in this affair — Menard, Touchette, Smith, and his predecessor Al Gobeille — are all familiar faces around state government. They are past or present denizens of the Statehouse bubble. They are well known and — rightly or wrongly — respected by legislators. Rep. Alice Emmons, who’s served in the House since 1983, is the longtime chair of the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, which will tackle the prison scandal. She and her committee have had responsibility for oversight of the system, and failed to keep the system on the straight and narrow. Is she going to dig deep into this thing, or will she be inclined to lay the blame at the feet of “a few bad apples”?

And again, if I hear that phrase in January, I’m going to scream. Because even at this early stage, there’s overwhelming evidence that this problem isn’t confined to the front-line workers. It’s clear that DOC management actively conspired to keep things quiet.

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