Human Services Secretary Responds To Misconduct Allegations At Vermont's Prison For Women

Dec 5, 2019

Gov. Phil Scott has ordered Human Services Secretary Mike Smith to investigate allegations reported by Seven Days of officer misconduct at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, Vermont's prison for women in South Burlington.

This week, Seven Days reported extensive allegations of drug use and sexual misconduct by corrections officers. That alleged misconduct includes sexual assault of inmates, harassment of female employees, and sexual relationships with women who have left the prison but are still under state supervision.

In a written statement Wednesday, Smith said he is "deeply concerned" by the report.

"If any of what has been reported is true, we have a problem," Smith wrote. "We're going to find that problem, and we're going to solve it."

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith spoke to VPR's Henry Epp on Thursday afternoon. Listen to the interview above.

Smith told VPR he hadn't previously been aware of the misconduct allegations outlined in the Seven Days report.

"If these are system issues, then we'll change the system. If these are personnel issues, then we will hold people fully accountable," Smith said. "Those are the things that I plan to do over the next couple of weeks."

Smith said examining the qualifications of Department of Corrections staff will be part of his investigation, as will looking at the possibility of closing the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.

The Vermont Attorney General's Office has offered to aid Smith in his investigation.

Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George has also said that she will review the sentences of the 20 women that her office has sent to the prison, according to a Seven Days report.

Update — On Friday, Seven Days' Paul Heintz reported that Smith said his agency's central office would take over the direct operation of Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility: