Vermont will send more than 200 inmates currently housed at a state-run prison in Pennsylvania to a privately-owned and operated facility in Mississippi.
Vermont’s Department of Corrections officially announced the move Wednesday, although VTDigger first reported the planned move last week.
In a press release Wednesday, the Department of Corrections stated that prisoners will begin moving to Mississippi this fall. The department also posted their contract with the Mississippi prison.
Corrections Commissioner Lisa Menard spoke to VPR’s Henry Epp. Listen to their full conversation above.
Currently, 228 inmates are held at Camp Hill prison in Pennsylvania. Prisoners will move to Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, a private prison owned and run by the company CoreCivic. The Corrections Departments said 350 beds will be available there to house Vermont prisoners.
Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner Lisa Menard said the state received two bids from private prisons, and CoreCivic’s was the best proposal.
"Of the two, the Mississippi facility seemed more appropriate for the offenders, despite being so far away — I mean, certainly I acknowledge that," Menard said. "But it is designed for longer-term housing. There was guaranteed employment. There were programs open, ready, available to go and large outside recreation spaces."
The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was quick to condemn the move to Mississippi after news of the planned contract broke last week.
“CoreCivic has a business model that is built on human suffering,” said James Lyall, the ACLU of Vermont's executive director. “It’s about cutting corners to increase the bottom line. They have a built-in incentive to detain people in unsafe and unsanitary, unsatisfactory conditions.”
This is not the first time Vermont has sent prisoners to a facility operated by CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America. The state previously sent prisoners to facilities owned by the company in Arizona and Kentucky.
Menard noted CoreCivic previously housed Vermont prisoners in Kentucky for 11 years and said the state had no such problems with the company.
More generally, Lyall criticized the state’s policy of housing prisoners out of state, which it’s done for 20 years.
“We’ve not always sent people to out-of-state prisons,” Lyall said. “It’s not inevitable or necessary that we continue to do so. It’s a policy choice, and we want to see Vermont policymakers and this administration take seriously the fact that we are choosing to send Vermonters — hundreds of Vermonters — to a facility where abuse is almost certain to occur.”
Menard acknowledged that "an ideal placement" would be to house inmates here in Vermont, but said "at this point, it would take an additional facility. It would take more physical bed space to do that."
She added that her department will continue to pursue safe ways to lower Vermont's overall inmate population.