Report Details Shoddy Conditions At Women’s Prison

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(Host) A new report says a prison housing female inmates is in shoddy condition and the state has failed to develop programs that would help inmates get a job when they’re released.

But the Shumlin administration says the physical problems are being addressed, and it’s making progress on programs for women in prison.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The report was released by a consortium of groups that work with women prisoners.

And some of the details are stomach churning. The Chittenden Regional Correctional Center in South Burlington was built in the 1970s. And the report says the physical plant is deteriorating with inmates reporting worms and flies in the shower drains.

(Donovan) "This decision to move the women there came last year with a promise that work would be done before the women even entered that facility." 

(Dillon) Burlington Democrat Joey Donovan chairs the House Education Committee. She says that when female prisoners were transferred to Chittenden from a facility in St. Albans last summer, the state failed to deliver promised job-training programs.

(Donovan) "I think that if were going to continue public policy that is intended to rehabilitate these women, bring them back to their children, to their communities, and make them contributing members of that community, then we need to address certainly the physical issues that are confronting them and most importantly the programming aspect of it."

(Dillon) Woodstock Democrat Alison Clarkson contrasted what’s available at the Chittenden facility compared to when female inmates were housed years ago at a correctional center in Windsor.

(Clarkson) "They were learning how to do electrical, plumbing and carpentry. And these are programs that they have now lost in the transition to Chittenden. And it’s essential that they get them back if we expect them to earn money for their families back in the community."

(Dillon) But the Shumlin Administration says it’s making progress, on both the physical plant and the program shortfalls. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito says the state has stepped up efforts to get rid of the insects in the shower drains.

(Pallito) "What we’ve done is we instituted a monthly and a weekly drain cleaning augmentation with a cleaning agent in the drains."

(Dillon) Susan Bartlett is special assistant to the governor who’s working on corrections issues.

She said the state has launched job-training programs at the Chittenden prison, such as one that trains women to repair motorcycles. And she says the state has not cut any programs that it provided earlier at the St. Albans jail.

(Bartlett) "The programming that was there in St. Albans is there now, whether its mental health counseling ,whether it’s substance abuse counseling, whether it’s working with their kids. The programs are all there."

(Dillon) Bartlett said moving the women inmates to Chittenden saved the state money because it allowed better use of prison space statewide. She said the state views the report as constructive criticism.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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