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Prison Investigation Substantiates Sexual Misconduct Claims, Offers Recommendations

A sign that says Chittenden Regional Correctional Factility, with the building in the background
Meg Malone
/
VPR File
The results of an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility were announced Wednesday. The investigation found misconduct did occur and that reform was needed.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Wednesday, Dec. 23.Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes with The Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

The latest coronavirus data:

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1. Vermont reports 73 new COVID-19 cases, 5 new deaths

The Health Department reported five new deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday and 73 new cases.

Of the new cases, 24 are in Chittenden County, and nine were reported in Bennington, Caledonia, and Windham counties.

Currently, 27 people are hospitalized, including seven in intensive care.

- Matthew Smith

Burlington mayor and family are out of quarantine

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced Wednesday that he and his family are out of quarantine and tested negative for COVID-19 after a possible exposure.

Weinberger's office said one of his daughters was considered a close contact of a confirmed case in her school.

Burlington had more than 730 confirmed cases as of last week, more than double any other community in Vermont since the start of the pandemic.

- Matthew Smith

2. Women's prison investigation substantiates allegations of misconduct, offers recommendations

An outside law firm investigating Vermont's only women’s prison says the state should strengthen the systems for reporting sexual misconduct.

The state hired Downs Rachlin Martin to look into allegations of sexual misconduct at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. The incidents, first revealed by Seven Days last year, included allegations that guards sexually assaulted inmates.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith says he plans to adopt all the recommendations made by DRM, including getting body cameras for corrections officers.

“I don’t have the specifics on how we’re going to fund it or the cost of funding it …  stay tuned on that, it’s a priority of my to get body cam into corrections,” Smith said.

DRM attorneys say they referred a number of incidents to law enforcement for criminal investigations.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. Vermont State Colleges System weighs proposal that would combine three schools under single accreditation

Leaders of the Vermont State Colleges System are reviewing a proposal by a state committee that would combine three of its schools under a single accreditation.

The proposal was released earlier this month. It recommends that Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College join together under a single leadership structure.

State colleges Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said that would save the system money in administrative costs.

"You do get some immediate savings, obviously, from the reduction in administrators at the top, because you don't need two presidents or in this case, three presidents and three provosts and three business offices, et cetera,” Zdatny said

She said she and the presidents of the colleges will be reviewing the plan over the next few weeks, and will begin discussing it with the system's board of trustees on Jan. 8, 2021.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Henry Epp

4. Welch says new stimulus package will increase weekly SNAP benefits by 15%

Congressman Peter Welch says thousands of Vermonters will benefit from a provision in the new pandemic stimulus package that allocates an additional $13 billion for federal food assistance programs known as SNAP.

Welch said the money is desperately needed because it's clear a growing number of Vermonters are suffering from food insecurity issues.

Welch said the stimulus bill will increase weekly SNAP benefits by 15%.

"It's real and the fact that there's a 15% bump in that nutrition assistance is really going to make the difference in food security for a lot of are families," Welch said. 

The stimulus bill doesn't change eligibility requirements for the SNAP program.  Welch said that's an issue that Congress will consider in the early weeks of 2021 session.

- Bob Kinzel

Welch questions Pres. Trump's call to boost individual payments

Congressman Peter Welch is questioning whether President Trump's call to boost payments to individuals in a new COVID relief bill is a serious proposal.

Earlier this week, both the House and Senate gave its approval to legislation that includes a direct payment of $600 for most Americans.

Trump is threatening to veto the bill if the payment isn't increased to $2,000 per person.

Welch supports the idea but questions the President's sincerity.

“It's just a display of the President's anger as he has to come to terms with the reality that on January 20th he's not going to be in the White House so I don't necessarily take this seriously I see it as a continuation of the president's inclination to be a very disruptive figure,” Welch said.

“You know, folks need money. When you’re not working or your hours are cut back and you’re trying to scrape by in this severe economic downturn that’s all related to COVID, you need money,” he said. “That’s really the bottom line.

The issue could come up for a vote Thursday in the House, but there's a possibility Republicans will block any consideration of the increase.

- Bob Kinzel

5. Department of Public Safety seeks feedback on draft statewide use-of-force policy

The Department of Public Safety is asking Vermonters to weigh in on a new statewide use-of-force policy.

The policy is one of a number of police reforms under consideration.

The draft policy includes an emphasis on de-escalation tactics and it requires officers to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force. State law enforcement officials want public feedback by Jan. 6, 2021.

The draft policy can be found online, here. Members of the public who wish to provide feedback may do so through that site, or by emailing comments to policing.feedback@vermont.gov

The Department of Public Safety is also developing statewide policies for body camera use, citizen oversight panels and other initiatives.

While the department proposed some reforms in January, the efforts gained more traction after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this summer sparked statewide protests.

Study finds Burlington Police used force against Black individuals at record rates in 2020

Burlington Police used force against Black individuals at a higher rate in 2020 that previous years, according to city data released this month.

During the first 10 months of this year, officers used force against 149 people. More than a quarter of those incidents involved Black individuals.

Overall Burlington cops have been using less force in recent years. But, according to city data, use of force against Black people in the city has remained steady.

- Liam Elder-Connors

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