Twenty-eight prisoners from Vermont are being held out-of-state at the for-profit Florence Correctional Center in Arizona. At around noon on August 22nd, 13 of those 28 inmates began protesting.
The prisoners ‘coordinated resistance’ and refused to return to their cells because they were frustrated by their increased isolation and the restrictions imposed on them by Corrections Corp. of America. While details of what transpired are unclear, prisoners allegedly “[smashed] televisions, microwaves and other equipment.”
CCA’s guards responded with force and a “chemical agent.” All 13 inmates were tossed into solitary confinement as punishment, where they’ve been for the past month. There is no indication as to when CCA will let them out.
The VT Department of Corrections — which paid CCA $34 million for the responsibility of incarcerating its own people — claims it doesn’t know when the private company will release the prisoners from solitary, insisting it’s CCA’s decision.
If that’s not enough to convince you the DOC is unmoved by the protest, look no further than the actions they did choose to take: the department sent investigators to Florence on September 10th to inspect the prison and speak with inmates. After spending only two days at the facility, the inspectors returned home without taking action.
Keep in mind that this is the second inmate protest (that we know of) at a CCA prison in the last three months. Just days before this protest in Arizona, over 400 Dominican inmates at the company’s federal immigrant prison in Youngstown, Ohio waged a 14-hour peaceful protest focused on their squalid living conditions and mistreatment by CCA staff. Both the federal government and the state of Vermont are slated to renew the company’s contracts next year, which explains why CCA goes to such great lengths to downplay and, some might say, cover-up inmates’ protests.
Even though we know very little about this story, the facts that are available underscore all the reasons why interstate transfers are a counterproductive and misguided policy. Still, with prisoners and their families speaking out against transfers, some officials attempt to justify them on the grounds that they reduce prison overcrowding and save money. In reality, interstate transfers are a lazy-but-harmful bureaucratic shortcut that can’t achieve either of these goals.
Instead of reducing the number of people in the prison system by, for example, changing sentencing laws, out-of-state transfers simply redistribute the prison population around the country. The Arizona Department of Corrections’ statistics found that housing minimum-custody prisoners in private facilities only saved the state a pathetic $0.03 per prisoner, per day.
Compare those ‘savings’ to the over-$50,000 in taxpayer funds Vermont spent in just the first half of 2014, sending caseworkers to visit prisoners in Kentucky and Arizona. How much did taxpayers pay to send these so-called inspectors to Arizona? Considering they came back after only two days and without a single recommendation or policy change, was it worth it?
If you believe Vermont incarcerates people with the hope that one day they will return as productive members of society, there’s an associated expectation that the state intentionally places prisoners in environments conducive to rehabilitation. But the truth is that Vermont’s choice puts its citizens directly in harms way by intensifying inmates’ isolation from family and community. This isolation feeds into recidivism, keeping private prisons rich and full.
As Seven Days Vermont makes clear in their report, the situation facing out-of-state prisoners at Florence is worse than most: while all of the 28 Vermont prisoners reside in the same wing, they are isolated from other inmates at the facility.
Prisoners’ families are made to suffer unnecessary emotional and financial burdens as well. Through sheer distance, phone fees, high commissary prices, etc., families are forced to pay exorbitant amounts of money to support, travel and/or communicate with loved ones. For a prisoner, an interstate transfer could mean losing any meaningful contact with the outside world:
When Bernard Carter was sentenced for an aggravated sexual assault 20 years ago, the Newport resident went to prison in Virginia, where Vermont formerly had a prison contract, and then to Lee Adjustment Center. He spent most of the last 16 years there.
His 81-year-old mother, Ruth Carter, says she and her husband could only afford to see him once a year, spending an annual $1,000 to fly to Kentucky for three days. They stayed from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. inside a supervised prison recreation room talking to their son and occasionally buying him a soda or snack from a vending machine.
Carter says she would have visited her son every weekend if he had been incarcerated in Vermont.
Interstate transfers and private prisons are bad enough on their own. Combined, they are a well-oiled machine of human misery. It’s time for Governor Shumlin to bring Vermont’s prisoners home.
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