Vermont Inmates Allege Lack Of Care In Mississippi Prison Hit By COVID-19

Aug 27, 2020

Vermont inmates held at an out-of-state prison experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak say they’re being kept in the dark and don’t always have access to appropriate care.

More than 80% of the 219 Vermont prisoners at the privately-owned Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi have tested positive for the virus. Two inmates are in the infirmary, none are hospitalized and 172 of the prisoners are considered in recovery because they’ve been without symptoms for 10 days, according to the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Harry Norway, one of 185 the inmates who tested positive, said he has a temperature of 101, but that officials at the facility won’t give him any fever-reducing medication, like Tylenol.

“They tell us everything that we can take for [it]. We're allowed to order it off commissary,” Norway said in a phone call with VPR. “I'm a diabetic and I got this virus and they give me nothing to fight it.”

"I'm a diabetic and I got this virus and they give me nothing to fight it." — Harry Norway, inmate at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility

Norway said he doesn’t have the money right now to buy Tylenol, which he says costs about $7.50 for a bottle of 100 pills.

The 50 year-old said he’s not the only inmate with pre-existing conditions.

“There's people here that are a lot older than I am,” he said in a phone interview. “Why wait until they get so sick that they have to go to hospital, when they can treat them beforehand so that they don't get that sick?”

More from VPR: Officials Say State Failed To Ensure Private Prison Tested All Vermont Inmates

Vermont DOC Facilities Executive Alan Cormier said inmates in Vermont should not have to buy Tylenol if it’s to help treat symptoms related to COVID-19.

“It’s very concerning, especially with all the protocols and efforts we put into place to keep this out of our facilities and the work we’ve done to try to suppress it in Mississippi. It is concerning to hear,” Cormier said.

CoreCivic, the company that runs the Mississippi facility, disputes that inmates are denied medicine.

“Any claims being made that an inmate isn't receiving medical care, especially if they present a fever or any other symptoms consistent with COVID-19, are patently false,” CoreCivic public affairs manager Ryan Gustin said in an email.

The outbreak in Mississippi was first identified at the end of July when six inmates returned to Vermont and tested positive when they arrived at Marble Valley Correctional Facility.

Shortly after those initial cases were discovered, the state pushed for all of the Vermont inmates in Mississippi to be tested and the number of confirmed infections quickly grew.

More from Brave Little State: Why Are There So Many African-Americans Incarcerated In Vermont?

Norway was not the only inmate in Mississippi to express dismay at how the outbreak is being handled. Another inmate claimed prison officials were providing little information about the outbreak and what the next steps will be.

"We're responsible for these inmates and we want to make sure they're being taken care of." — Alan Cormier, Vermont DOC Facilities Executive

Cormier said it’s concerning to hear that inmates in Mississippi are that worried about the situation.

“For anyone to feel like they may have a death sentence is not okay,” Cormier said. “We’re responsible for these inmates and we want to make sure they’re being taken care of.”

DOC staff are travelling to the facility next week to assess the situation. The department will also soon have access to the camera system at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, which will allow state officials to verify that CoreCivic is following coronavirus mitigation procedures.

More from VPR: COVID-19 Reduced Incarceration To Levels Reformers Had Only Dreamed Of. Will It Last?

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Correction 8/28/2020, 5:30 a.m. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of inmates considered to be in recovery. The number is 172, not 173.