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Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility
South Burlington
Prison Health Services
September 2, 2010 Burlington Free Press
A prison rights group's efforts to force disclosure of information from a government contractor is a critical effort to keep public records open as state government increasingly looks to privatize services to save money. Prison Legal News -- a magazine and organization promoting prisoners rights -- is arguing that a company formerly known as Prison Health Services that provides health care services in Vermont prisons is subject to the state's public records law. Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright got it right when he told The Associated Press that the state "cannot contract out the public's fundamental right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and the quality of services the pubic is getting for its money." If there is any ambiguity about the reach of open government laws when government functions are contracted out to private firms, then the Legislature must make erasing that ambiguity a priority in the next session. Vermont's open government laws are so full of exemptions and so lacking in consequences for the offender as to render them largely meaningless. The least the Legislature can do is to make sure the public's already limited ability to keep government accountable isn't shut down by privatization. Around the country, private contractors are being hired by state and local governments in search of savings. There is no reason the reach of open government laws should stop simply because government functions paid for with tax dollars are in the hands of private companies. If private companies want to profit by performing government functions, then they should expect to held accountable by taxpayers who will be paying the bills. The principle must be that any government meeting or information that would be open to the public must remain so even if the function has been transferred outside of government. Otherwise, government officials could erect a wall of secrecy simply by outsourcing anything they might be hard pressed to explain to the public. People have a right to know what their government is up to, and access is the first step in keeping government accountable. The responsibility to deliver information to the public rests with the elected officials and civil servants. That responsibility is undiminished even if government functions are privatized. Advocating for open government will require a shift in culture for a Legislature more prone to seeking exclusions and exceptions to the open government laws to every interest that comes along. This is a change that must happen at the polls in November by extracting a pledge of open access and accountability from every candidate.

August 26, 2010 Serious News
Here's a fascinating lawsuit that will test the legal boundaries of Vermont's public-records statute. Prison Legal News (PLN), a Brattleboro-based nonprofit that publishes the nation's largest jailhouse newspaper, filed suit today against PHS Correctional Healthcare — formerly known as Prison Health Services — seeking documents related to the August 2009 death of a female inmate at Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans. Until last year, PHS, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based private corporation, was contracted by the state to provide medical services to inmates in all of Vermont prisons. On August 16, 2009, Ashley Ellis, a 23-year-old Rutland woman who suffered from anorexia and was serving a 30-day sentence, was found unresponsive in her cell and later pronounced dead. The state's chief medical examiner determined that a contributing factor in her death was the "denial of access to medication" by the prison's medical staff. Ellis' family eventually settled its lawsuit with PHS for an undisclosed sum. Late last year, the Vermont Department of Corrections decided not to renew the company's five-year contract when it expired in January. According to a PLN press release issued today, the Brattleboro nonprofit submitted a formal document request to PHS Correctional Healthcare under Vermont's open-records law, seeking "copies of the company’s contracts with government agencies in Vermont; records related to settlements and judgments that PHS had paid as a result of lawsuits and civil claims; and documents concerning costs incurred by PHS to defend against claims or suits." PHS Correctional Services subsequently denied that request, claiming that, as a private company, it wasn't subject to Vermont's public-records law. However, in a complaint filed in Vermont Superior Court, PLN contends that the prison health provider served as the "functional equivalent" of a state agency, as it provided a service that would otherwise be delivered by the state. According to PLN Editor Paul Wright, this "functional equivalency" standard has been successfully applied to private corporations providing similar services in other states. “The state can outsource public functions and services such as health care for prisoners,” Wright said, in a statement, “but it cannot contract out the public’s fundamental right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and the quality of services the public is getting for its money.” Wright also questioned “why PHS refuses to release records that state agencies would have to produce if the state were providing prison medical care.”

May 28, 2010 Rutland Herald
A watchdog group charged with safeguarding the rights of the disabled released a report Thursday that cites a number of systematic failures that led to the death of a Vermont inmate last year. Disability Rights Vermont's 23-page report about the death of Ashley Ellis found that miscommunications between the Department of Corrections and Prison Health Services — the private company contracted to provide health care in the state's prisons at the time of Ellis' death — along with other breakdowns in the system of care led to the 23-year-old's death from a combination of hypokalemic-induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and denial of medications to boost her potassium levels. The report also includes a number of recommendations to prevent similar deaths, including improving the identification of inmates in need of medical treatment for substance withdrawal, assuring that important medical information is received and verified promptly by prison health staff and assuring that qualified nursing staff are available at all shifts, including weekends.

December 29, 2007 Rutland Herald
The proposed settlement in a wrongful death suit against the state has been sealed. Earlier this month, attorneys for the estate of the late Robert Nichols of Brandon filed a motion to seal an order for the distribution of settlement proceeds and related documents. The papers will remain sealed at least until Rutland Superior Court holds a hearing on the motion, according to a court clerk. Robert "Bones" Nichols, a meat cutter who worked at his family's slaughterhouse, died in 2005 at age 44 while at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington. He was undergoing a severe case of heroin withdrawal and a later report by a statewide advocacy group said his death could have been prevented. His widow, Eva Nichols, filed a lawsuit in 2006 against the state and against Prison Health Services, Inc., a company contracted to provide medical services in the Vermont prison system shortly before Nichols died. Eva Nichols was acting as administrator of her husband's estate. The lawsuit sought unspecified damages. The documents were sealed because of a confidentiality agreement between the plaintiff and Prison Health Services that is part of the proposed settlement. Attorney Devin McLaughlin, who represents the plaintiff, could not be reached for comment Friday. Samuel Hoar, the attorney for Prison Health Services, said that the motion was necessary because wrongful death suits require a court order on the distribution of settlement money and the parties cannot just mutually dismiss the case like in other types of lawsuits.

September 13, 2007 Rutland Herald
A settlement has been reached in a civil lawsuit against the state filed by the family of a Brandon man who died in a South Burlington jail while suffering from severe heroin withdrawal, according to court records. Paperwork indicating that the lawsuit brought on behalf of the estate of the late Robert Nichols has been resolved was filed last week in Rutland Superior Court. The documents do not state a dollar amount of the settlement, only that a resolution of the case was reached following a mediation session involving the parties. Attorneys in the case said since formal paperwork regarding the settlement hasn't yet been filed in court as of Wednesday, they could not disclose details of the resolution. "Unfortunately I can't really comment at this point in time because it hasn't been finalized," Assistant State Attorney David Groff, said. "When that happens there will be a stipulation of the parties and I'll be able to comment at that time." Peter Langrock, a Middlebury attorney representing the Nichols' family, said he could not yet talk about the settlement amount either. "I can tell you that we settled and at this point it's for an undisclosed sum," Langrock said. The lawsuit was filed in October 2006 on the behalf of Nichols' estate, which is administered by his wife, Eva Nichols. Nichols died in February 2005 while in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington. The lawsuit named the state of Vermont as a defendant as well as Prison Health Services, a company that had been contracted to provide medical services in Vermont's prisons shortly before Nichols' death. The lawsuit sought unspecified damages. According to court records, Nichols, 44, was arrested Feb. 3, 2005, on federal firearms charges and the next morning he was taken to the South Burlington jail before being taken to federal court. However, he was deemed too ill to go before a judge and later that night, he saw a nurse from Prison Health Services, the lawsuit said. "This was approximately 16 hours after first arriving at the facility with obvious withdrawal symptoms. Mr. Nichols was not seen by a doctor or referred to an outside facility," according to the lawsuit. "Rather, he was returned to his cell after apparent administration of some medication. He was not sent to a medical bed or facility." Nichols told the nurse that he had vomited three times and had a fever and tremors. Fifteen-minute checks were ordered. In the response to the lawsuit, the state acknowledged that not all the checks were done properly. "The state admits that Mr. Nichols was placed on 15-minute checks, but was not observed on a continuous, uninterrupted basis," the response stated. "The state further admits that some checks did not comply with the standards and practices demanded by the state." Nichols was found dead just before 6 a.m. the next morning. In June 2005, Vermont Protection & Advocacy issued a report stating that Nichols' death at the jail could have been prevented if the staff had provided better medical care. The advocacy group stated corrections officials knew Nichols was sick when he arrived at the jail, but did not properly monitor his condition. "Had they taken a more active role in assuring he was receiving adequate medical care and follow up, this tragedy may have been avoided," the advocacy group's report stated.

October 9, 2006 Rutland Herald
The family of a Brandon man, who died in a jail more than a year ago, is suing the state, claiming that while he was suffering from severe heroin withdrawal, he failed to get necessary medical care while behind bars. The lawsuit was filed last week in Rutland Superior Court on behalf of the late Robert Nichols' estate, which is administered by his wife, Eva Nichols. Robert Nichols died Feb. 5, 2005, while in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington. The lawsuit names as defendants not only the state of Vermont, but Prison Health Services, a company that had been contracted to provide medical services in the Vermont's prisons shortly before Nichols' death. The lawsuit alleges proper procedures were not followed for Nichols, an inmate experiencing withdrawal symptoms from the use of heroin at the time of his incarceration. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. According to the lawsuit, Nichols was arrested on Feb. 3, 2005, on federal firearms charges, and on Feb. 4 at about 3:30 a.m., agents from the federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms brought Nichols to the South Burlington jail, where he was lodged as a federal detainee. "Mr. Nichols reported that he was suffering from heroin withdrawal, and that he had ingested eighty (80) bags of heroin within three days of being incarcerated," the lawsuit stated. "He was not given immediate medical attention." At about 9 a.m. on Feb. 4, Nichols was transported to federal court in Burlington, but because of the severity of his withdrawal symptoms, he could not appear before the judge and was taken back to the South Burlington jail around 1:30 p.m., according to the lawsuit. "Again, Mr. Nichols received no immediate medical treatment," the lawsuit stated. "The U.S. Marshals reported the severity of Mr. Nichols' symptoms to (the South Burlington jail)." The first medical treatment Nichols received at the jail was more than five hours later, at about 7:15 p.m. of Feb. 4, when he was seen by a nurse from Prison Health Services, the lawsuit stated. "This was approximately 16 hours after first arriving at the facility with obvious withdrawal symptoms. Mr. Nichols was not seen by a doctor or referred to an outside facility," according to the lawsuit. "Rather, he was returned to his cell after apparent administration of some medication. He was not sent to a medical bed or facility." Nichols had reported to the nurse that he had vomited three times that evening and had a fever and tremors, the lawsuit stated. Fifteen-minute checks were ordered on Nichols, who had been returned to a cell. "However, these checks were either not conducted in whole or in part or were so cursory a fashion as to not constitute meaningful observation," and Nichols continued to vomit in his cell, the lawsuit stated. The next morning, at 5:54 a.m., when a correctional officer opened the cell door to bring in breakfast, Nichols was found dead, and he appeared to have been deceased for about an hour. The lawsuit stated that state Department of Corrections employees, as well as employees of Prison Health Services, violated Nichols' rights "by their deliberate indifference to Mr. Nichols' serious medical needs, as they knew of and disregarded excessive risk to Mr. Nichols though gross incompetence and grossly inadequate treatment and supervision." In June 2005, a statewide advocacy group issued a report looking into Nichols' death. The report stated that Nichols' death could have been avoided if he had received better medical care. Vermont Protection & Advocacy reported that the state Department of Corrections knew Nichols had been sick when he came into the jail, but did not properly monitor him.

August 11, 2006 Burlington Free Press
The parents of an inmate who committed suicide in his cell in 2004 have sued the state Corrections Department, alleging that prison workers knew their son was thinking of killing himself but did not act to prevent his death. Ryan Rodriguez, 24, was found hanging in his cell Oct. 19, 2004 at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington. He died at Fletcher Allen Health Care four days later after his parents had him removed from life support. Court documents show he had been in jail for 15 months awaiting trial on charges he mistreated a toddler he was caring for at a Burlington motel. Rodriguez, from New Mexico, was visiting friends in Burlington at the time of his arrest. Rodriguez's death occurred six months after an independent study examined seven inmate deaths in an 18-month stretch, including two by suicide. The study found evidence the Corrections Department had mishandled inmates with mental health issues. "We had no idea Ryan was being treated so badly," Ryan Rodriguez's mother, Carol, said during a telephone interview last week from Tucson, Ariz., where she and her husband, Joe Rodriguez, live. "When Joe got there after Ryan's suicide, one of the guards told him to seek legal help. He said, 'This has happened previously here.'" The Rodriguezes allege in their lawsuit that four times during their son's 15 months in jail awaiting trial, he told Corrections officers he was thinking of hurting or killing himself but was never referred to mental health workers for help. The case, filed in federal court in Burlington, lists as defendants the Corrections Department, three of its employees and Correctional Medical Services, the department's medical care contractor at the time.

June 23, 2005 Rutland Herald
An advocacy group claims the death of a prison inmate suffering from heroin withdrawal could have been prevented if staff had provided better medical care. Vermont Protection & Advocacy said Friday that the Corrections Department knew Robert Nichols was sick when he arrived at jail but failed to adequately monitor his condition. "Had they taken a more active role in assuring he was receiving adequate medical care and follow- up this tragedy may have been avoided," Vermont Protection & Advocacy said in its report released Friday.  The advocacy group claims procedures were not followed for inmates experiencing drug withdrawal symptoms or undergoing detoxification.     The records show Nichols was seen by a nurse 14 hours after he lodged at the prison when Corrections policy require that inmates who are suffering from drug withdrawal be reported to medical staff for evaluation, the report said.  The report also questioned whether prison guards checked on Nichols throughout the night. The report also raises concerns about Prison Health Services, who was contracted to provide medical services in the state's prisons a week before Nichols' death.  Among the recommendations, the report advises the state to monitor the care provided by Prison Health Services and makes sure staff follow policies and are trained to recognize behaviors that are potentially life threatening. The group also recommends that the Corrections Department provide an apology and financial settlement to Nichols' family.  Nichols death follows a spate of seven inmate deaths, including two suicides, over an 18-month period that ended in late 2003. An outside investigation concluded that state actions and policies were partly to blame for the deaths of some of the seven people who have died in state custody.

North Lake Correctional Facility
Baldwin, Mich
Geo Group
Dec 29, 2016 vtdigger.org
VERMONT MUST FIND NEW FACILITY FOR ITS OUT-OF-STATE PRISONERS
The company that incarcerates Vermont prisoners in Michigan has told the state it will not extend the current contract when it expires in June. Currently, 265 Vermont men are held at the GEO Group’s North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan. The Vermont inmates are the only occupants of the facility. The GEO Group notified officials with the Vermont Department of Corrections earlier this month that the company will not continue the arrangement, according to Commissioner Lisa Menard. “While we are disappointed with GEO’s decision, we do recognize that we have less than 300 people in a facility designed for over 1,000,” Menard told VTDigger on Wednesday. According to Menard, the state could amend the contract with the GEO Group if the company has space available at a different facility. Or the state may sign a new contract with another company. In late June 2015, 280 Vermont inmates moved to the Michigan facility. The contract with the GEO Group was for two years with an option for two one-year extensions. The North Lake Correctional Facility was built in the 1990s by the Wackenhut Corrections Co. (which has since become the GEO Group) for young offenders. But the prison was shuttered in 2005 and remained empty until the Vermont inmates arrived, save for a brief period in 2011 when inmates from California were held there. The move required a change to Michigan state law to allow out-of-state prisoners with high-level security classifications to be held there.Previously, Vermont contracted with the Corrections Corp. of America to house inmates out of state. Most were held at a facility in Kentucky, but some were in a higher security facility in Arizona. The number of Vermont prisoners incarcerated out of state has declined significantly in recent years. Vermont inmates who are sent out of state tend to be those with longer sentences. Reports from Vermont prisoners in Michigan earlier this year prompted concerns about the conditions there. Menard said Wednesday the GEO Group has been “a good partner.” “It is our plan to work with GEO, the inmates and the inmates’ families to ensure a smooth transition, and we will ensure inmates, their families and other stakeholders are kept updated as we move through this process,” Menard said. A representative of the GEO Group confirmed the company’s intention not to exercise its renewal option for the contract to house Vermont inmates at North Lake. “Over the last year and a half, our partnership has allowed the state of Vermont to meet its need for safe, secure and humane correctional management and rehabilitation services, and we look forward to working with the state of Vermont to ensure a smooth transition over the next six months,” said Pablo E. Paez, vice president of corporate relations for the GEO Group.

Dec 3, 2015 sevendaysvt.com
Vermont: GEO MI not so good
In June, the Vermont Department of Corrections ended its controversial 11-year relationship with the Corrections Corporation of America and started a new one with a rival private prison company, the GEO Group. As a result, 350 Vermont inmates were transferred from a CCA prison in Kentucky to a GEO facility in Michigan. Five months later, inmates and the officials who advocate for them say they were better off in Kentucky. They claim the transition to the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich., has been rife with problems. Inmates accustomed to the open dorm-style living in Kentucky are now stuck in Michigan in windowless cells and allowed little freedom of movement. They no longer have access to many of the jobs, classes and activities that helped them pass the time - and stay out of trouble - in Kentucky. To learn about life in the GEO prison, Seven Days exchanged emails with several inmates. A new system now gives prisoners in both Michigan and Vermont an alternative to calling "collect": digital means to communicate with the outside world - for 40 cents per email. Inmates who engaged with Seven Days described a chaotic transition during which rules were unclear and GEO seemed ill prepared to host them. North Lake, which had been mothballed for several years, received them just two months after GEO announced the two-year, $30 million contract with Vermont and began hiring new guards. In fact, the Vermonters are the only inmates in the 1,740-bed prison, which is about three hours northwest of Detroit."The underlying theme is that we have been treated like guinea pigs," wrote inmate Victor Hall, who was convicted of aggravated sexual assault. The GEO facility, he wrote, "wasn't ready for us at all, and these five months later they are still patching holes in the boat. When we got to Michigan, nobody knew anything about how this place should operate, including the staff." Some of the wrinkles have been smoothed out, inmates say. GEO hired a dentist, set commissary prices, and resolved the laundry and toilet paper delivery schedule. But inmates and their allies fear some problems may be intractable. One of the biggest complaints: There is a scarcity of jobs that could help prisoners pass the time and earn a small amount of money, around 50 cents a day, to buy personal items at the commissary. "North Lake feels a lot more like 'dead time' than CCA," said inmate Shaun Bryer, a former Morrisville teacher and select board member convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting former students. "What you have are guys who used to occupy themselves for hours a day with nothing to do ... Time seems to go slower, and little problems seem bigger." In Kentucky, every inmate who wanted a job had one. In Michigan, even though the Vermont inmate population has plummeted to 240 - something state officials say is partly the result of prison diversion programs - there aren't nearly enough jobs to go around. Programs have been affected, too. In Kentucky, many inmates spent several hours a day making elaborate craft projects - ranging from jewelry boxes to small pieces of furniture - using Popsicle sticks and glue. DOC officials told inmates the program would continue in Michigan. Instead, guards there deemed the materials contraband and confiscated them. The warden rejected pleas to restore the program, according to several inmates. In Kentucky, some prisoners took advantage of a canine-training program. They spent six to eight weeks teaching obedience to shelter dogs that were in danger of being euthanized as a result of behavioral problems. There's no such program in Michigan. "We're put in storage, and with nothing positive to fill our time, we are left with two choices: Do nothing or do wrong things," Hall said. "There isn't enough offered here to make good use of the massive time we have to spend here. Many, many men here do nothing. They waste and rot, largely for nothing." It's been more than 20 years since the Vermont DOC had enough room to accommodate its prisoner population. When the 1,600 beds in seven facilities are all occupied, the state relies on private companies to step in. Generally, inmates with longer sentences get sent out of state, where non-Vermonters are responsible for their mental health and safety. The prisoners' primary advocate in Vermont said he is concerned that security at North Lake is weaker than it was in Kentucky, and a few fights have already broken out. "There is the potential for a lot more trouble," said Seth Lipschutz, supervising attorney for the Vermont Prisoners' Rights Office. "My sense is that this place is somewhat less safe than Kentucky." Inmates live in four wings. At the center is a small hub that is usually staffed by just one guard, Lipschutz said. Other guards walk through the wings and check on the inmates infrequently. There have been instances of inmates being bullied into paying "rent" to other inmates for the privilege of living in their assigned cells, Lipschutz said. "One of the main problems that concerns me is the potential - and incidents I've heard about - for inmate-on-inmate violence and the strong preying on the weak." Vermont inmates contacted by Seven Days did not, however, express any significant security concerns. Nor were they immune from violence in CCA prisons. Last year, Vermont inmates rioted in a CCA prison in Arizona, where the company used to house a small number of Vermonters who had disciplinary problems in Kentucky. In 2004, inmates rioted inside the Kentucky prison. DOC Commissioner Lisa Menard, who was appointed to her position in September, said in an interview that her agency is pleased with GEO's work and described the switch as a "smooth transition" with normal "growing pains." "You're taking people who don't have any control over where we're moving them," Menard said. "They didn't choose Kentucky. But they were comfortable. They established their routine, and we moved them. Like anybody, they want their routine back." Menard confirmed that some fights had occurred in Michigan, but nothing out of the ordinary. She said no one had been seriously injured. GEO, a publicly traded company based in Florida that owns more than 100 prisons worldwide, did not respond to a request for comment by press time. Menard said GEO was not contractually obligated to provide inmates jobs or crafts programs but that the DOC is working with the company to create more work opportunities. GEO has discretion in the classes and activities it offers, she said. "I've definitely heard the same complaints, and we continue to look at them," Menard said. "Their concerns are not falling on deaf ears." Compounding inmates' frustration is a grim routine. Outdoor time is limited to an hour or two a day, when it's offered at all. In Kentucky, by contrast, inmates could roam between various wings and go outside largely unfettered, as long as they behaved. In Kentucky, the cells had windows. In Michigan, they don't. "When your world closes in on you, little things become much more important in a way we in the public don't understand," Lipschutz said. Not all inmates fault GEO. Kaseen Smith said he prefers Michigan to Kentucky. GEO staffers, he said, have treated inmates fairly. He attributed any shortcomings to the Vermont DOC, which he claimed cares little about its out-of-state inmates. "These people here at GEO make a valid effort to meet our needs," said Smith, who was convicted of aggravated domestic assault. "They do what they can." Though they have just begun to settle in, some inmates are now worried that they could soon be forced to relocate again and go through another uncomfortable transition. A few told Seven Days that wardens and guards have said that North Lake is in danger of closing if it doesn't get more prisoners. GEO announced in May that up to 1,000 inmates from the State of Washington were coming to North Lake. But the Washington inmates never arrived. The Washington DOC has since said it will only use Michigan as a fallback, and it has no immediate plans to send inmates there. Lipschutz said that guards at the Michigan prison had asked him whether Vermont could send more inmates, to keep the prison economically viable. Menard said she was unaware of any possible change in GEO's plans for North Lake, and, while the state would like to reduce its inmate population so it can cut all ties with the private prison industry, that isn't likely to happen anytime soon. "What's frustrating," she said, "is that we're doing prisoners out of state at all." Meantime, inmates in Michigan say their time spent there does little to prepare them for life on the outside. In Kentucky, Bryer taught a basic adult education class to help inmates obtain their GEDs. His class was usually full. Over the years, he said, more than 800 Vermonters obtained their high school equivalencies through the program. Now, there are no classes to teach. Bryer spends some of his abundant free time lobbying GEO officials for more programs. He asked: "Isn't the goal of corrections to correct?"

Sep 30, 2015 vnews.com

Jim Kenyon: Locked Out of Out-of-State Prison

I’ve always assumed the hard part about prison was finding a way out. I had no idea that getting into prison would be so hard. I’ll start at the beginning: In June, the Vermont Department of Corrections moved 300 inmates to a for-profit prison in northern Michigan. The prison is operated by GEO Group Inc., a Florida-based equity real estate investment trust. Whatever that is. Why the state of Vermont would leave the rehabilitation of hundreds of its prisoners to a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange is beyond me. As is, why a real estate investment trust would have any interest in preparing inmates for their successful re-entry into the outside world. Not when it has shareholders to please. The mere concept of for-profit prisons defies logic. GEO only gets paid when its prison beds are occupied. It’s not in the financial interests of the company — or its shareholders — to work toward keeping people out of prison. Since the state’s arrangement with GEO is costing Vermont taxpayers roughly $6.6 million a year, I thought it would be worthwhile to check out in person what’s happening at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich. This wouldn’t be my first out-of-state prison visit. Shortly after Vermont started shipping inmates to distant jailhouses to save money in the late 1990s, I made a trip to Jarratt, Va. I spent a few days interviewing Vermont inmates in an office inside the Greensville Correctional Center. Escorted by a prison supervisor, I meandered through the inmates’ living quarters and the outdoor recreation yard. I walked through solitary confinement, but avoided death row. (Greensville is home to Virginia’s execution chamber.) Valley News editors, as well as me, thought it was important to give readers a look at how Vermont inmates were being treated hundreds of miles from home. Our thinking hasn’t changed. For nearly 20 years, state lawmakers and governors, starting with Howard Dean, have sold Vermonters on the notion that sending inmates out of state was a cost-saver. Last year, Vermont had 1,600 inmates spread out over seven in-state prisons at an average annual cost of $60,000. GEO, which has 106 prisons worldwide in its portfolio, charges $22,600 per inmate. But what elected officials don’t talk about much is the toll that being so far away from home can have on inmates, their families and their future. Elected officials also gloss over the reasons why GEO and other for-profit prison companies are less costly. “If you don’t provide rehabilitative services, it’s going to be cheaper,” said Burlington attorney Robert Appel. He also told me the for-profit prison companies that Vermont does business with are allowed to “cherry-pick” the inmates that they take off the state’s hands. The for-profit companies prefer inmates who don’t suffer serious or chronic medical conditions. Or anything else that might drive up costs, such as educational classes or job training for inmates. “They’re just doing dead time,” Appel said. “That’s all it is.” Appel knows quite a bit about how prisons operate. For eight years, he served as Vermont Defender General. His office was responsible for, among other things, protecting the legal interests of inmates. He did such a good job that Dean didn’t reappoint him when his term expired in the early 2000s. On Aug. 12, I attended the Legislature’s Justice Oversight Committee’s hearing at the Statehouse intended to shed light on the deaths of three Vermont prison inmates this year. (A fourth inmate has since died at the women’s facility in South Burlington.) One of the deaths occurred at a for-profit Corrections Corporation of America prison in Kentucky, where 250 Vermont inmates were held before being moved to Michigan. James Nicholson, 66, died May 18, a few weeks after being attacked in a prison bathroom. An autopsy indicated that he died of heart disease and complications from diabetes. But the medical examiner in Kentucky couldn’t determine whether the fractured skull and other injuries suffered in the attack were factors in Nicholson’s death. All the more reason, I thought, to check out conditions in Michigan. DOC Commissioner Andy Pallito asked that I put my request in writing. I did, on Aug. 13. I haven’t heard much since. Two weeks ago, Pallito quietly resigned as DOC commissioner to take another job in state government. Last week, DOC said my “request for access to the North Lake Correctional Facility was presented to the GEO Group.” To find out more, I needed to contact GEO’s public information office, said DOC. Nevermind that the office’s website lists no contact names or phone numbers. Why should a real estate investment trust in Florida be deciding whether the media can visit Vermont inmates in Michigan? It’s fairly simple. DOC prefers not to think of out-of-state inmates as its problem. Out of state, out of mind. As for Vermont’s elected officials, they don’t really sweat what’s going on 850 miles away in the Midwest. Inmates and their families have little clout. I’m guessing they’re not big campaign donors, either. Meanwhile, GEO has little interest in allowing the media to glimpse what goes on inside its prison walls. It’s a private company that does the public’s business without any obligation to be transparent. Last Thursday, I emailed GEO’s headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., about setting up a visit. I haven’t heard back. Maybe I’d have better luck reaching them on Wall Street.

Swanton Jail
(Northwestern Correctional Facility)
Swanton, Vermont
Prison Health Services
Dying in Cell 40 Part 2



June 13,2013 rutlandherald.com

MONTPELIER — A lawsuit by a Brattleboro publisher and the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont is raising a question about what happens to the idea of access to public records when government services are privatized. Prison Legal News of Brattleboro says it’s been stymied in its efforts to get information under the state’s Public Records Act about settlements of suits brought by Vermont inmates against the Corrections Corporation of America. That private company is doing Vermont state business by housing inmates from Vermont at prisons in Kentucky, Arizona and Indiana. “The issue of whether private contractors are covered by the Public Records Act becomes all the more important because there’s been more and more outsourcing of state government services in recent years,” said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the ACLU’s Vermont chapter. In addition to the state Department of Corrections’ use of prison beds managed by CCA, Gilbert pointed to a push in the state’s mental health system to house patients in private hospitals. That movement has grown since flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 forced the closure of the public Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury. “Like a lot of other people, we’re trying to get an answer to the question of whether a private contractor is subject to the Public Records Act the way a state agency would be if it were providing the service,” the ACLU chief said. The law says government records must be made available for public inspection unless specific exemptions apply. Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor and chairwoman of the House Government Operations Committee, said Wednesday she expects a special review of Vermont’s public records law will include asking what happens to public information when private companies take over government services. “That issue has come up and it hasn’t been resolved,” Sweaney said. “It certainly does present a very interesting case.” Private companies’ records normally are not subject to public inspection the way a government agency’s are, she noted. “But if you’re doing the state’s work with public money, how open should your records be?” Prison Legal News first asked the Corrections Department for information about the lawsuit settlements but was told the agency didn’t have the information and was referred to CCA, editor Paul Wright said Wednesday. Wright accused the state of “willful blindness and ignorance in government” about the treatment of Vermont prisoners. He said the lawsuit, filed last week in Washington County civil court in Montpelier, followed similar, successful suits in other states. Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito said in an email that while his department does not get copies of settlements, it does monitor major cases brought by inmates against CCA. “To my knowledge, contractors are not obligated to disclose settlements to the state,” Pallito wrote. He said the CCA contract says the state is indemnified, meaning Vermont does not have to pay when the settlement of an inmate suit results in money going to the inmate.


Jun. 6, 2013 burlingtonfreepress.com

MONTPELIER — The American Civil Liberties Union in Vermont has filed a state public records lawsuit to dislodge records showing settlements of lawsuits brought by prisoners against the Corrections Corporation of America. The Vermont Corrections Department contracts with CCA to house Vermont inmates in out-of-state facilities. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Prison Legal News, a nationwide monthly periodical of the non-profit Human Rights Defense Center. The publication reports on prison conditions and on prisoners’ rights and developments in prison litigation. As part of its reporting on conditions in private prisons such as those operated by CCA, the News submitted a public records request to CCA in the fall of 2012 seeking information about lawsuits filed by Vermont prisoners housed in CCA-operated facilities. CCA — the nation’s largest for-profit prison company — ignored the request, as well as a subsequent administrative appeal, according to Allen Gilbert, executive director of the ACLU in Montpelier. “The public needs to know how prisoners are treated and to understand how the for-profit prison industry works,” News editor Paul Wright said. “By reviewing CCA’s litigation settlements, Prison Legal News can report on the ways in which Vermont prisoners are being injured at CCA facilities and suffering violations of their constitutional rights, and how much CCA is willing to pay for the misconduct of its employees,” he said. Gilbert said it is an important Vermont public records case with far reaching implications. “States and municipalities are contracting out more and more of their responsibilities, and it’s vital that Vermonters don’t lose the ability to see what’s being done in their names and with their tax dollars.” Wright noted Prison Legal News has pursued similar cases in other states. The News successfully sued CCA in Tennessee, where the company is headquartered, for failing to comply with that state’s public records statute, and recently filed a similar suit in Texas. “As far as we’re concerned, a private corporation that is playing the role of a state agency through a privatization contract is the functional equivalent of a state agency and is thus accountable to the public,” Wright said. Vermont ACLU staff attorney Dan Barrett, who represents Prison Legal News in the suit, agrees. “A contractor cannot exercise the power of the state to hold human beings in prison cells and then turn around and say that the company is not subject to public scrutiny. We think that Vermont’s public records law applies equally to CCA when it stands in the shoes of the state Department of Corrections.” The lawsuit, filed in the Vermont Superior Court’s civil division in Montpelier, seeks a court order requiring CCA to disclose the requested records.

August 20, 2012 WCAX
A battle in court this week on who is financially responsible for the death of an inmate. 23-year-old Ashley Ellis died three years ago after she didn't receive her medication to treat anorexia. Ellis's family and Prison Health Services, the company contracted by the state to provide health care in prison, already reached a settlement. Now Ellis' estate is suing the department of corrections and employees for failing to provide the medicine. The state wants a judge to consider if Prison Health Services still has any financial liability. The former health care provider claims the out of court settlement with the family protects it from future lawsuits and its contract with the state also protects its from liability incurred by the department of corrections.

October 31, 2011 Burlington Free Press
Two administrators for a Tennessee company that provided health care services at Vermont prisons in 2009 have been disciplined in connection with the death of a 23-year-old female inmate from Castleton who was denied medication for a severe eating disorder, state records show. The woman’s death came two days after she was incarcerated at a St. Albans jail to begin serving a 30-day sentence. The state’s action in response to the death: • Deborah Ploof Moore, a licensed practical nurse and the regional administrator for Prison Health Services at the time, was issued a warning by the Office of Professional Regulation. • Renee Louise Trombley, the contractor’s local clinical director, was issued a reprimand. Both orders became public this month. The inmate, Ashley Ellis, died Aug. 16, 2009, after she was found unresponsive in her cell at Northwest State Correctional Facility. Chief Medical Examiner Steven Shapiro later determined Ellis’ cause of death as “hypokalemic induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and denial of access to medication.” She was being incarcerated on a misdemeanor careless and negligent operation of a motor vehicle conviction stemming from a 2007 accident that seriously injured a Mount Tabor man. She weighed 87 pounds when she arrived at the jail Aug. 14. Her lawyer and doctor forwarded Ellis’ medical records and medication needs to state Corrections Department officials just before she went to the St. Albans facility, family members and state officials have confirmed. According to the Office of Professional Regulation files, Trombley received the medical records and list of medication needs for Ellis prior to Ellis’ arrival at the prison. Trombley, however, was told to attend a meeting shortly before Ellis showed up, and the medication orders were never passed on to the intake nurse, the records state. “When she left the facility for the meeting, the orders remained on her desk,” Trombley’s stipulation and consent order said in part. “She did not inform staff of the orders or the possible admission of Inmate #1 that day or otherwise act to ensure that the orders would be processed upon Inmate #1’s admission.” Moore, as Prison Health Services’ top administrator overseeing its contract providing health care at Vermont prisons, neglected to tell the state that the intake nurse for Ellis, Wayne Hojaboom, was disciplined by Prison Health Services after the incident, the records state. Hojaboom was given “written counseling” and was suspended for two days without pay for his handling of the Ellis case, according to the case records. By law, Prison Health Services was required to make a report to the state whenever it disciplines an employee. The stipulation and consent orders indicate the two women did not admit wrongdoing but did agree that the state could prove the claims against them. An attorney for the two administrators, asked for comment Monday, said in a statement that both deny engaging in unprofessional conduct in the Ellis case. “Neither Ms. Moore nor Ms. Trombley played any clinical or decision-making role in the care provided to Ashley Ellis, and their Nursing Board stipulations reflect that fact,” attorney Eric Miller said. “Their ability to practice nursing remains unaffected by the Board’s actions. The Office of Professional Responsibility did investigate the nurses who were directly involved in Ms. Ellis’s care and declined to charge any of them with unprofessional conduct.” Prison Health Services later decided not to seek a renewal of its contract with the Vermont Corrections Department and was replaced by Correct Care Solutions as the provider of prison medical care in February 2010. The Ellis family sued Prison Health Services and reached an out-of-court settlement with the firm in 2010. The settlement amount was not disclosed. In August, the family sued the Vermont Department of Corrections and various state officials, alleging they failed to have procedures in place to ensure that a person with Ellis’ condition would received adequate care once she arrived at the prison and did not make sure the critical potassium medicine she needed would be there for her. The lawsuit, now pending in Rutland Superior Court, also alleges that the state’s prison medical director, Dolores Burroughs-Biron, required Trombley to attend the meeting that took Trombley away from the jail the day Ellis arrived. Burroughs-Biron also refused a request by Trombley to postpone the meeting, the lawsuit said.

April 13, 2010 Rutland Herald
The family of a Rutland woman who died in part from lack of medications while she was an inmate in Vermont has settled with the private company that provided health care to the state's prisons at the time. Rutland attorney Shannon Bertrand, who is representing the family of 23-year-old Ashley Ellis, said Monday that an out-of-court settlement was reached recently with Prison Health Services — the Tennessee-based company that was providing medical services in August 2009 when Ellis died while serving a 30-day sentence at the state women's lockup in Swanton. A medical examiner's report found that Ellis died from a combination of hypokalemic induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and denial of medications to boost her potassium levels. A state police investigation conducted after her death found that despite attempts by Ellis' family and physician to ensure her medications would be on hand when she arrived at the facility, a series of miscommunications and mistakes on the part of doctors and nurses at the jail led to the prescription never being filled. Two days after she arrived at the jail, Ellis collapsed in her cell and was later pronounced dead at Northwestern Medical Center. The terms of the settlement agreed to last month, including the amount of any payment to the family, was kept confidential under the terms of the agreement, Bertrand said. "It was settled to the satisfaction of all parties and individuals," Bertrand said, adding that the agreement covered any claims against individual employees who were working for PHS at the time. The company did not renegotiate its contract last year and has since left the state.

March 7, 2010 Rutland Herald
A medical corporation stonewalled the police detective investigating the death of an inmate last year at the Swanton prison. A state police report on the investigation into the death of Ashley Ellis includes revelations that lawyers for the private company that provided medical care in Vermont prisons instructed its employees not to talk to police, that Ellis might have gotten medication she needed were it not for a missed phone call, and that Ellis was smuggling contraband into the prison at the time of her death. Ellis died Aug. 16, two days into a 30-day sentence for a traffic offense that seriously injured a man. A medical examiner's report found that she died in part because prison medical officials did not supply her with potassium pills used to treat complications from anorexia. The 10-page report, released after a public records request, lists Vermont State Police Detective Edward Meslin's findings before lawyers for Prison Health Service, which had a contract to provide health care in Vermont prisons, put an end to its employees' cooperation. The Vermont Department of Corrections did not renew the contract when it expired in January. A spokesman for Tennessee-based Prison Health Services declined to comment Friday. In the past, the company has denied responsibility for the death of Ellis, who was from Rutland. "Based on the information available at this time, PHS is confident that during the less than 48 hours that Ashley Ellis was in state custody, she received care that met applicable standards. … We can state emphatically that PHS did not deny her access to medications," the company said in a Sept. 30 statement. But while the company and its employees have faced neither criminal charges nor civil litigation as a result of Ellis' death, there is plenty of blame directed at it and its employees. "PHS broke down, that's where the breakdown was," said Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio. His office oversees the Prisoner Rights Office, which handles legal affairs on behalf of Vermont inmates. "The bottom line is, they had an obligation to get her medications. How they did so is almost an irrelevance." "I'd have to say in my view, there is sufficient evidence to bring a criminal charge against the company itself," Valerio added. "I almost guarantee if this were an elderly person who checked into a nursing home and someone failed to provide for them, it would be looked at in a whole different way." Franklin County State's Attorney Jim Hughes said in October he would not pursue charges in Ellis' death because he could find no one person whose negligence rose to a criminal level. A.J. Ruben, an attorney for Disability Rights Vermont (formerly Vermont Protection and Advocacy), said his organization, which safeguards the rights of individuals with physical or mental disabilities, agreed with Hughes' conclusion that no crime had been committed. "There's no individual or corporation here who should be held responsible," Ruben said. "There were individuals who made poor choices when taken all together." 'Poor choices' -- The state police report, completed Oct. 9, describes several "poor choices" and failures in the system that should have provided for Ellis' health. Ellis, 23, was convicted last year of misdemeanor negligence in a 2007 crash that left a motorcyclist partly paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Her sentence also included community service and indefinite loss of her driver's license. Ellis had been diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder since the crash and was on medications, including potassium chloride. On Aug. 12, a Wednesday, two days before Ellis was to report to Northwest State Correctional Facility, her doctor faxed her medical records to Dr. Delores Burroughs-Burron in the Department of Corrections' health services office, who in turn faxed them to a nurse working at the prison. The nurse, Renee Trombley, reviewed the records the next day and e-mailed a Dr. Cody in California, identified in the report as Prison Health Services' regional director. Cody authorized Trombley to order Ellis' medications, the report said, but they were not ordered then because it was the end of the day. Arriving between 7 and 7:30 a.m. the next morning, Trombley found one of the two other nurses scheduled that day had not come in. Trombley wound up skipping her own duties to cover the missing nurse's. Trombley told police she tried to have a meeting in Waterbury postponed but was instructed by a superior to go, and left the jail in mid-afternoon. She never ordered Ellis' medication. Ellis reported to prison that same day — Aug. 14, a Friday — at 1 p.m. As she sat in booking, Ellis wrote a two-page letter, later found under her bed. Detective Meslin said she described going from a healthy, 120-pound 21-year-old to a depressed, 86-pound 23-year-old. The letter said she had been sitting in booking for six hours, that she had spoken to "a lady from mental health" three hours ago and that she needed her medication. She described being served a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chips and a peach before writing "well that didn't take long for all that to come up." At 9 p.m. Ellis was screened by another nurse, Wayne Hogaboom. She listed low potassium as a chronic medical problem. At about 11 p.m., she was taken to her cell. Missed opportunity -- On Saturday, Aug. 15, nurse Connie Hall arrived at 6 a.m. for a 12-hour shift. Ellis' chart was one of five or six waiting on her desk. Hall verified Ellis' medications, then called a PHS doctor to issue her new prescriptions, including one for potassium chloride. The prison did not have the potassium in stock, so Hall called in the prescription to the Rite Aid pharmacy in St. Albans and left a message for a nurse on the night shift, asking her to pick it up. The night nurse, Karen Hough, didn't listen to the message until the following day. She told police she didn't usually check her messages until then. Hall said that while nurses would often pick up prescriptions on their way to work, it was "strictly a courtesy thing." Hough arrived at work at 5:40 p.m. without the medication. Hall told police the Rite Aid closed at 6 p.m., so there was not time to get the medication, and that "someone probably would have gotten the medication on Sunday." Hough later told police she left the company because of the incident. She could not be reached for comment for this story. Corrections officer Mike Wall brought Ellis breakfast in her cell a few minutes after 6 a.m. that Sunday. Wall said they exchanged pleasantries. Another inmate said Ellis appeared groggy. Wall returned about half an hour later and found Ellis face-down on her bunk, unresponsive. Medical personnel cleared food from her mouth and performed the Heimlich maneuver before taking her to the Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans. She was pronounced dead at 7:33 a.m. Detective Meslin arrived at 8:45 a.m. He interviewed prison officials and found the letter under Ellis' bunk, along with a casework request form under her bed. Filled out in pencil, the form said, "On Tuesday I'd like to meet my case worker to discuss my meds and get everything straightened out." She also had a sick call request, dated Aug. 15, that did not appear to have been handed in to prison officials. An autopsy found the cause of death to be complications from low potassium, blaming anorexia and lack of access to medication. It also found a package in Ellis' vagina containing 17 hand-rolled cigarettes and five and a half pills of Suboxone, a painkiller prescribed to her before entering prison. Gag order -- Meslin wrote that an interview with Trombley in October was interrupted by a knock on the door, after which she left the room for a moment. When she returned, according to the report, she said an attorney for Prison Health Services had instructed her not to speak with him. Five days later, on Oct. 6, an attorney for the company contacted Meslin, saying he represented not just PHS but all its employees, who asked him not to speak with any of the company's employees regarding the incident. Both Valerio and Ruben said that denying investigators access to employees was normal practice for a business trying to limit its legal liability. But both lawyers said they saw lots of room for improvement in the system. Ruben said his group is completing an investigation of Ellis' death that will include not only the nonprofit group's conclusions about what went wrong but also pages of suggestions that will be turned over to the Department of Corrections. At least some action has already been undertaken by the state, which replaced Prison Health Services with another private contractor, Correct Care Solutions. It has been providing health and mental health services at Vermont's prisons since the start of February.

February 27, 2010 Burlington Free-Press
A Corrections guard attacked by a mentally ill inmate in 2005 is suing the company that provided health care services to prisons statewide at the time, alleging the firm denied the inmate prescription medications meant to control his penchant for violent outbursts. The guard, Christopher Barrett of Newport, sustained a traumatic brain injury as a result of the attack by Daniel Heart, 46, of Whiting, and he has been unable to return to his job at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, where the attack occurred. Heart was convicted of aggravated assault following the incident. According to medical records made public as part of Barrett’s lawsuit in federal court in Burlington, Heart had complained several times before the attack to Prison Health Services staff about not receiving the drugs he needed to control his violent tendencies. Heart’s medical records show he had told prison medical personnel in the past he “wanted to hurt others” and had “homicidal thoughts toward security guards.” Heart was serving a sentence at the time for killing a roommate in Whiting in 1996. Barrett also is suing Dr. Paul Cotton, a provider of mental-health services to Vermont prisons at the time, in state court. PHS, through its attorney Samuel Hoar of Burlington, has alleged there was no way to link its failure to give Heart his medication to Heart’s attack on Barrett. “It is not reasonable to conclude that PHS could have or should have foreseen where, when or against whom his next assault would occur,” Hoar wrote in a Jan. 10 document filed at U.S. District Court in Burlington. Feb. 19, however, the federal magistrate presiding over the pretrial phase of the lawsuit disagreed and threw out PHS’ request to dismiss the case. “Given the overwhelming number of red flags in Heart’s medical file, along with PHS’s obligations, it was reasonably foreseeable that a failure to properly manage Heart’s mental health care and psychiatric medications would cause an attack on a corrections officer,” Magistrate John Conroy ruled. Conroy’s decision could have bearing on the outcome of another dispute involving claims PHS failed to provide critical medications to an inmate who had asked for them repeatedly. That inmate, Ashley Ellis, 23, of Castleton, was anorexic and died Aug. 16 while incarcerated at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town. The state’s chief medical examiner has said the denial of a potassium medication Ellis needed to address her eating disorder led to her death. PHS announced it was ending its affiliation with the state shortly after the details of the Ellis case became public. Correct Care Solutions of Nashville, Tenn., took over inmate health care in Vermont on Feb. 1.

August 26, 2010 Serious News
Here's a fascinating lawsuit that will test the legal boundaries of Vermont's public-records statute. Prison Legal News (PLN), a Brattleboro-based nonprofit that publishes the nation's largest jailhouse newspaper, filed suit today against PHS Correctional Healthcare — formerly known as Prison Health Services — seeking documents related to the August 2009 death of a female inmate at Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans. Until last year, PHS, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based private corporation, was contracted by the state to provide medical services to inmates in all of Vermont prisons. On August 16, 2009, Ashley Ellis, a 23-year-old Rutland woman who suffered from anorexia and was serving a 30-day sentence, was found unresponsive in her cell and later pronounced dead. The state's chief medical examiner determined that a contributing factor in her death was the "denial of access to medication" by the prison's medical staff. Ellis' family eventually settled its lawsuit with PHS for an undisclosed sum. Late last year, the Vermont Department of Corrections decided not to renew the company's five-year contract when it expired in January. According to a PLN press release issued today, the Brattleboro nonprofit submitted a formal document request to PHS Correctional Healthcare under Vermont's open-records law, seeking "copies of the company’s contracts with government agencies in Vermont; records related to settlements and judgments that PHS had paid as a result of lawsuits and civil claims; and documents concerning costs incurred by PHS to defend against claims or suits." PHS Correctional Services subsequently denied that request, claiming that, as a private company, it wasn't subject to Vermont's public-records law. However, in a complaint filed in Vermont Superior Court, PLN contends that the prison health provider served as the "functional equivalent" of a state agency, as it provided a service that would otherwise be delivered by the state. According to PLN Editor Paul Wright, this "functional equivalency" standard has been successfully applied to private corporations providing similar services in other states. “The state can outsource public functions and services such as health care for prisoners,” Wright said, in a statement, “but it cannot contract out the public’s fundamental right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and the quality of services the public is getting for its money.” Wright also questioned “why PHS refuses to release records that state agencies would have to produce if the state were providing prison medical care.”

August 13, 2010 AP
About 100 Vermont prison inmates serving sentences at private prisons in Kentucky and Tennessee are going to be getting a lot closer to home. The Department of Corrections has signed a contract to move those inmates to the 350-bed Franklin County Jail and House of Corrections in Greenfield, Mass., about 20 miles south of Brattleboro. Vermont currently houses about 600 inmates at private prisons in Kentucky and Tennessee because the state doesn't have enough prison space. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito tells the Burlington Free Press moving the inmates to Massachusetts will save about $1 million over two years, make it easier for families to visit and make it easier to prepare the inmates for release.

May 28, 2010 Rutland Herald
A watchdog group charged with safeguarding the rights of the disabled released a report Thursday that cites a number of systematic failures that led to the death of a Vermont inmate last year. Disability Rights Vermont's 23-page report about the death of Ashley Ellis found that miscommunications between the Department of Corrections and Prison Health Services — the private company contracted to provide health care in the state's prisons at the time of Ellis' death — along with other breakdowns in the system of care led to the 23-year-old's death from a combination of hypokalemic-induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and denial of medications to boost her potassium levels. The report also includes a number of recommendations to prevent similar deaths, including improving the identification of inmates in need of medical treatment for substance withdrawal, assuring that important medical information is received and verified promptly by prison health staff and assuring that qualified nursing staff are available at all shifts, including weekends.

May 7, 2010 Bennington Banner
Timothy Dufresne said he has always been "race-oriented." But the Bennington-native's views trended more and more radical with each day served in various out-of-state prisons. In Dufresne's eyes, whites are an oppressed majority soon to become a minority. Immigrants are taking jobs that rightly belong to Aryans. And once a white man is behind bars, African Americans are a distinct threat to life and limb. It is precisely those beliefs that led Dufresne to help create Hitler's Henchmen, a white supremacist gang with ambitions to spread throughout Vermont. Its members number somewhere between a handful and several hundred, depending upon who is asked. But regardless of the gang's size, Dufresne's commitment to his cause is evident. A swastika spreads across his back. Another adorns his fist. The lightning symbol of the elite Nazi SSunit responsible for annihilating European Jews is inked in several places, including his head. And the image of a black man hanging from a noose climbs his right arm. "I live by guidelines. There's rules, as far as I'm concerned. I don't believe in blacks and whites being together. I just don't think it should be. I believe in keeping my race pure and keeping my race going," said Dufresne, who agreed to a recent interview at his Bennington apartment after initially declining a request. Dufresne's experience is not atypical among offenders in Vermont, according to officials. Vermont has a long, proud history of embracing progressive social views. It was the first state to prohibit slavery in its constitution, the first state to allow civil unions, and, in 2009, became the first state to pass legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. So, it seems ironic that state policy could be one of the driving forces behind the radicalization of racial, ethnic and religious beliefs of some -- not all -- Vermont convicts. The transformation of Vermont inmates into white supremacists seems to materialize from their contact with inmates in out-of-state prisons. Vermont currently holds contracts with Corrections Corporation of America to house many of its long-term inmates in Kentucky and Tennessee, although previous contracts have sent inmates to facilities in Alabama, Virginia, Texas and other states. "There are certainly pros and cons to sending offenders out-of-state," Vermont Agency of Human Services Secretary Robert Hofmann said. "In the con category would be the opportunity to meet offenders out-of-state who would have a negative influence on them." Hofmann, whose agency oversees the Vermont Department of Corrections, said inmates housed in out-of-state facilities require time at the back end of their sentences to be "reintegrated" into Vermont because of the disparate cultures. Despite those negative consequences, however, there are positive financial impacts that Vermont officials simply cannot ignore, Hofmann said. Namely, it costs the state about $54,000 to house an inmate in Vermont and about $24,000 to send the same inmate to a CCA facility. "I readily acknowledge the pros and cons in any public discussion," Hofmann said. "I think 49 other states would trade their problems with Vermont in a heartbeat." Bennington County State Sen. Dick Sears, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said sending inmates to out-of-state prisons is "a recipe" for bringing back white supremacist views. The problem seems to have eased a bit, however, since inmates are no longer sent to Virginia and Alabama, he said. Sears said he and other lawmakers would prefer inmates to remain in Vermont, but the state has no place to put them. There are about 2,200 inmates and only 1,500 beds. "I haven't found a community yet that's willing to build a 700-bed facility," he said. Meanwhile, Steve Owen, a spokesman for CCA, which operates 65 prisons in 20 states, said the company exerts considerable effort at its facilities to stifle gang activity. CCA prisons are not incubators for radical views, he said, adding, "I don't think that's been our experience, to be honest with you." Rather, the racially charged views some Vermont inmates have embraced often arrive with them, he said. "Inmates bring those with them, and can take them back, obviously. I don't think we've seen the trend really one way or the other," Owen said.

April 13, 2010 Rutland Herald
The family of a Rutland woman who died in part from lack of medications while she was an inmate in Vermont has settled with the private company that provided health care to the state's prisons at the time. Rutland attorney Shannon Bertrand, who is representing the family of 23-year-old Ashley Ellis, said Monday that an out-of-court settlement was reached recently with Prison Health Services — the Tennessee-based company that was providing medical services in August 2009 when Ellis died while serving a 30-day sentence at the state women's lockup in Swanton. A medical examiner's report found that Ellis died from a combination of hypokalemic induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and denial of medications to boost her potassium levels. A state police investigation conducted after her death found that despite attempts by Ellis' family and physician to ensure her medications would be on hand when she arrived at the facility, a series of miscommunications and mistakes on the part of doctors and nurses at the jail led to the prescription never being filled. Two days after she arrived at the jail, Ellis collapsed in her cell and was later pronounced dead at Northwestern Medical Center. The terms of the settlement agreed to last month, including the amount of any payment to the family, was kept confidential under the terms of the agreement, Bertrand said. "It was settled to the satisfaction of all parties and individuals," Bertrand said, adding that the agreement covered any claims against individual employees who were working for PHS at the time. The company did not renegotiate its contract last year and has since left the state.

February 27, 2010 Burlington Free-Press
A Corrections guard attacked by a mentally ill inmate in 2005 is suing the company that provided health care services to prisons statewide at the time, alleging the firm denied the inmate prescription medications meant to control his penchant for violent outbursts. The guard, Christopher Barrett of Newport, sustained a traumatic brain injury as a result of the attack by Daniel Heart, 46, of Whiting, and he has been unable to return to his job at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, where the attack occurred. Heart was convicted of aggravated assault following the incident. According to medical records made public as part of Barrett’s lawsuit in federal court in Burlington, Heart had complained several times before the attack to Prison Health Services staff about not receiving the drugs he needed to control his violent tendencies. Heart’s medical records show he had told prison medical personnel in the past he “wanted to hurt others” and had “homicidal thoughts toward security guards.” Heart was serving a sentence at the time for killing a roommate in Whiting in 1996. Barrett also is suing Dr. Paul Cotton, a provider of mental-health services to Vermont prisons at the time, in state court. PHS, through its attorney Samuel Hoar of Burlington, has alleged there was no way to link its failure to give Heart his medication to Heart’s attack on Barrett. “It is not reasonable to conclude that PHS could have or should have foreseen where, when or against whom his next assault would occur,” Hoar wrote in a Jan. 10 document filed at U.S. District Court in Burlington. Feb. 19, however, the federal magistrate presiding over the pretrial phase of the lawsuit disagreed and threw out PHS’ request to dismiss the case. “Given the overwhelming number of red flags in Heart’s medical file, along with PHS’s obligations, it was reasonably foreseeable that a failure to properly manage Heart’s mental health care and psychiatric medications would cause an attack on a corrections officer,” Magistrate John Conroy ruled. Conroy’s decision could have bearing on the outcome of another dispute involving claims PHS failed to provide critical medications to an inmate who had asked for them repeatedly. That inmate, Ashley Ellis, 23, of Castleton, was anorexic and died Aug. 16 while incarcerated at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town. The state’s chief medical examiner has said the denial of a potassium medication Ellis needed to address her eating disorder led to her death. PHS announced it was ending its affiliation with the state shortly after the details of the Ellis case became public. Correct Care Solutions of Nashville, Tenn., took over inmate health care in Vermont on Feb. 1.

December 8, 2009 In These Times
Ashley Ellis’s misdemeanor arrest turned into a death sentence. Her crime: “careless and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.” Less than two days after entering a Vermont prison on a 30-day sentence, she died from the careless and negligent operation of a privatized for-profit prison healthcare system. Her death shows what can, and does, happen across the country when states outsource prisoner medical services: states cut corners on monitoring, and contractors skimp on care. Ellis’ death “is a pretty blatant and obvious and extreme case of gross negligence,” says Seth Lipschutz, supervising attorney at the Vermont Defenders office. “We figured out in a day that they killed her.” Accidents happen -- There are cracks in everyone’s path that can widen into disaster. Ellis seemed to trip into more than her share. The car accident for which she was jailed was just that — an accident. She was not speeding or impaired when she hit a man on a motorcycle. He suffered terrible injuries, was put on a ventilator, and is in a wheelchair. Her injuries emerged over time. “Ashley was horrified by what she had done,” said Sandra Gipe, her grandmother. In the two years between the accident and her incarceration, Ellis became a licensed nursing aide, and “took care of people on ventilators,” said her public defender Mary Kay Lanthier. “That was all she knew to do, since she couldn’t help the man she hit.” She also dropped almost 40 pounds, and her eating disorder became so severe she had been hospitalized. When she entered prison, she required regular potassium supplements to keep her heart from shutting down. Prison Health Services (PHS) never gave her the prescribed medication that could have saved her life. An autopsy put the cause of death as heart failure caused by “denial of access to medication.” Ellis stood 5 foot 6 inches and weighed 87 pounds on Friday, August 14, when Gipe drove her to the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton, Vt. A few days earlier, a news report on her sentencing described the 23-year-old as “gaunt and haggard.” Her public defender asked for no jail time because traffic accidents aren’t crimes, and Ellis was too sick. Judge Thomas Zonay, either ignoring or ignorant of the bare-bones medical staffing on weekends, ordered Ellis to report at the start of the weekend to the 160-bed red brick prison. Zonay declined comment. From the moment Ellis entered the bleak intake room with its two barred cells, her life was in the hands of PHS, the fourth for-profit prison healthcare contractor since 1996 to serve Vermont inmates. The Tennessee-based company’s cross-country rap sheet is spattered with deaths, lawsuits, millions of dollars in fines and settlements, and numerous investigations. A 2005 three-part New York Times investigation found PHS care “flawed and sometimes lethal.” ‘Potassium girl’ -- PHS and Vermont’s Department of Corrections (DOC) have lawyered up, but we know that days in advance of her incarceration, Ellis’s doctor faxed prison authorities health records documenting her serious anorexia/bulimia nervosa, her need for frequent meals, and most importantly, potassium. On Friday afternoon, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) conducted the prison’s medical intake. On Saturday morning, Dr. John Leppman, the only PHS physician on-call that weekend for Vermont’s eight facilities, gave LPN Connie Hall an order for folic acid, potassium and Tums. No potassium was in stock, so a nurse left a cell phone message for a colleague to stop for some at the local drug store before reporting for her 6 p.m. shift. That nurse did not check her messages and arrived at the prison just before the Rite Aid closed for the night. We also know that by contract, nursing on weekends at Northwest is skeletal and assigned to LPNs who may not have the training to know the importance of potassium, and are barred by state nursing regulations from assessing patients. By Saturday afternoon, Ellis, who knew the physical danger signs, was begging so often and fervently for potassium that her jailers nicknamed her “Potassium Girl.” Taking pity on the emaciated woman, one corrections officer (CO) violated rules to make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, according to Darla Lawton, an investigator with the defender general’s office. Another CO was outraged that someone copped a 30-day sentence for a misdemeanor. Ellis was “a skeleton,” he says, “I have never seen anyone in that condition.” By 9 p.m., an hour before lockdown, Ellis complained that she felt unwell and went to bed. “Ashley was someone who needed help so much, and no one helped her,” Gipe says. On Sunday at 6:15 a.m., Ellis seemed OK when a CO brought breakfast to her cell, but when he came to collect the tray, Ellis lay crumpled on her bunk. Her eyes were fixed open, her mouth contained unswallowed food. Up and down Delta Block, locked-in inmates pressed against the small windows in their steel doors, riveted by the unfolding tragedy. Ellis was pronounced dead at the local hospital. PHS’s public relations firm issued a statement that Ellis “received care that met applicable standards…[and that] PHS did not deny her access to medications.” The company refuses to say more, Vermont has refused to file charges, and the DOC has stonewalled some records requests. Ellis’ family is considering a civil suit. For PHS, paying off lawsuits is part of the cost of doing business. “It’s in their interest to provide inadequate care and take lumps when sued,” Lipschutz says. And when things get really dicey, PHS simply quits, “thus preserving its marketable claim that it has never been let go for cause,” the New York Times wrote four years ago. Conveniently for PHS and Vermont, the contract expires in January, and the relationship is ending with a volley of I-quit, don’t-bother-to-reapply exchanges. Vermont’s serial contracts with for-profit prison healthcare corporations follow a nationwide pattern: Prisoners get inadequate care, contractors absorb lawsuits, states switch providers, and the conflict between profit-making and good care remains. As Lipschutz sees it, Ellis’ death is “just another example of the maxim: ‘We don’t care. We don’t have to.’ ” “We” usually includes the public. “People admitted in newspaper comments,” says Vermont’s Defender General Matthew Valerio, “that if it had been a sex offender [who died] they ‘wouldn’t give a damn.’” But Ellis, a pretty young woman, incarcerated for an accident, drew press, public sympathy, and a search for those responsible. At first “I pointed the finger directly at [Connie Hall], the nurse on duty,” says Valerio, “but realized she was just the last one in line. Now I think PHS is to blame. … Profit-driven organizations are prone to cut costs. The system failed.” “My analogy is guards at Abu Ghraib,” Lanthier says. “Sure the LPNs bear responsibly, but there is a systemic problem.” Vermont first entered that system in the 1990s with EMSA (Emergency Medical Services Associates, later bought by PHS). Next came CHS, and then Correctional Medical Services (CMS), which the state dumped in 2004 after seven in-prison deaths in one year. An investigation found “inadequate staff [that] would lead to significant medical problems and errors in medication administration,” and called for “drastic measures to insure contract compliance.” PHS arrived in 2005. Understaffed to death -- “Low staffing levels put Ellis in a position of not getting what she needed,” Valerio says. “It frequently happens, but usually no one dies.” PHS’s $16.4 million per year contract allows it to staff Northwest and other facilities on weekends (and many weekday shifts) with no one above the level of LPN. One PHS doctor is on call, by phone, to cover the 1,600 beds and the 7,000-8,000 people who annually transit the state’s eight jails. Leppman says he fields 20 to 30 calls a weekend. Nurses can work 12-hour shifts, and one says she was ordered to work 36 hours straight because no one else was available. PHS’s contract allows all but one prison to substitute an LPN “without penalty if an RN is not available.” The substitution is not trivial. Paid less, LPNs are also less trained (typically one year), and it is not clear, says Valerio, “that an LPN would know that it would have been life threatening” to delay potassium. Lorene Gendron, who worked for PHS for two years as an inmate advocate, says that poor support, salaries and working conditions mean high turnover. “They will hire any friggin’ warm body because they go through staff so much,” she says. “PHS’s reputation is so bad that good people don’t want to work with them, or stay,” says Martha Israel, an RN who says she quit the women’s prison after “PHS hired an LPN to be nurse manager, a position requiring making patient assessments regularly, but I thought that was incredibly unsafe — and illegal.” When PHS’s contract was up for renewal, she tried to warn the DOC. Timely treatment was a perennial problem. Dr. Charles Gluck, now retired, said that when he worked for PHS, he was frustrated by common delays in getting meds and X-rays. One RN risked her career to fill the gap. In 2006 her patient was in pain, but the prescribed Tylenol 3 would not arrive for days. She violated the rules by taking Tylenol 3 a released prisoner had left behind, and giving it to the suffering woman. “I did the wrong thing legally,” she said, “but I was trying to do what was right for my patient.” PHS fired her. “When I heard about Ashley’s death, and the failure to provide meds,” she said, “I thought: ‘Here we go again.’ They don’t have enough staff, so they push people to the ultimate. I’ll bet a dollar to a dime that’s what happened to the LPN on the weekend Ellis died.” When Vermont first hired PHS in 2005, the contract mandated an inmate advocate to visit the prisons and field grievances. “I would say, ‘Why can’t you just give the patient the med they need?’” Gendron asked. “And PHS would say, ‘It’s too expensive, or not on our formulary.’ It was hard to see something so simple to do for someone and not be able to get it done. There was so much pressure not to prescribe.” “The fewer services they provide, the more money they make,” Lipschutz says. People vs. profits -- “I’m still reeling,” Andrew Pallito, DOC commissioner, says of Ellis’s death. “Up until that point, they [PHS] were doing satisfactory work.” In fact, from January 2008 to May 2009 (three month before Ellis died), PHS reported 169 sick call and pharmacy violations, and DOC imposed $19,200 in penalties. Despite deaths, the blistering New York Times exposé, and warnings by nurses and others, Vermont renewed PHS’s contract for 2007. It let PHS cut twenty nursing shifts a week at Northwest, alter its contract to use LPNs rather than RNs as clinical coordinators and cut the inmate advocate position. Asked if money was the reason, Gendron, who earned $14 an hour, says, “I’ll never be sure.” Much of PHS’s performance is self-reported, and state monitoring relies on limited resources as well as good intentions. Almost five years ago, Pallito was DOC management executive when an auditor’s report on CMS found that Vermont had no real way to evaluate the quality of care. “We didn’t belly up to the bar to monitor them,” he says. “I think we have made some improvements.” Now DOC head, Pallito called Ellis’s death “an isolated incident. …[PHS has] been in Vermont for four years. On balance, it was not bad.” Bad or not, PHS is exiting the revolving door and Correct Care Solutions (CCS) is entering. They have much in common. Both, are for-profit providers, and both have shared the same CEO, Gerald (Jerry) Boyle. Before founding CCS in 2003, Boyle headed PHS from 1998 to 2003, a period covered by the Times investigation that found PHS medical care “around the nation has provoked criticism from judges and sheriffs, lawsuits from inmates’ families and whistle-blowers, and condemnations by federal, state and local authorities.” Boyle’s Vermont connection goes back further. He was also a vice-president with EMSA when it was the state’s first prison healthcare contractor. Negotiations between Vermont and CCS are in the final stage, and it is likely that the new contractor will retain many of the same staff and, unless Vermont writes a very different contract, a tradition of medical lapses and lax oversight. Gipe is hoping that inquiries into her granddaughter’s death will spur reform. But if the investigation is confined to finger-pointing and narrow facts, the answers may obscure rather than reveal the extent and causes of a systemic breakdown that was remarkable for its tragic outcome rather than its particular errors. Vermont, along with many other states, will still have to resolve the contradiction between the healthcare needs of an often despised population, and the demands of a private contractor for profit. In the latter, at least, PHS was successful: Healthcare revenues from continuing contracts for the third quarter of 2009 — the quarter when Ellis died from lack of a $4 bottle of pills — increased almost 28 percent over that quarter in 2008, to $160 million.

October 30, 2009 Rutland Herald
Franklin County State's Attorney Jim Hughes said his office won't seek criminal charges in the death of 23-year-old Ashley Ellis, who died after she was denied medication in the Swanton jail. "My charge was to review the case thoroughly," Hughes said Thursday. "My decision was to seek no charges against any individuals in the case." State Police have been investigating the Rutland woman's death since she collapsed and died at the women's correctional facility on the morning of Aug. 16 — just two days into a 30-day prison sentence for a misdemeanor charge of negligent operation of a motor vehicle. Ellis' grandparents, Clarendon residents Sandra and James Gipe, said they were unhappy with the decision, but not surprised. "We're really disappointed about what happened today," Sandra Gipe said. "But, on the other hand, it sounded like they couldn't figure out which person to blame. There are a lot of people involved in this." Last month, Ellis' family hired a lawyer to review potential civil charges in the case. On Thursday, the Gipes said their lawyer would be in contact with Hughes about his decision. "Right now, it's a he-said-she-said issue," James Gipe said. "No one wants to take responsibility for what happened." After reviewing 50 pages of medical records, charts and correspondence between Ellis' personal physician and employees of Prison Health Services, the contractor that provides health care services to all of Vermont's prisons, Hughes said he found no grounds for criminal charges despite a medical examiner's report that found that Ellis died, in part, because she was denied potassium pills for an anorexic condition. PHS has denied any wrongdoing in Ellis' death. Corrections officials and PHS employees were notified of Ellis' medical condition and her need for medication a week before she arrived at the prison. But after reviewing the case, Hughes said, there was no single person whose actions were either criminally or grossly negligent in the case. "There's not cause for me to file any criminal charges against any individual for the death of Ashley Ellis," he said. Asked if his office had reviewed potential criminal charges against PHS as a corporation, Hughes declined comment. The prosecutor also said he couldn't talk about details of the case or how events unfolded. He said he couldn't release the name of any PHS employees involved in Ellis' care or whether they were still working at the jail.

October 3, 2009 Rutland Herald
The family of Ashley L. Ellis, who died in jail while in state custody, has retained a legal team to review the 23-year-old's death. Ellis' family has had little to say this week after a medical examiner's report was released that found the Rutland woman died from a combination of hypokalemic induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and — as her grandmother predicted — "denial of access to medication." A layman's definition of the technical cause of death, provided by police, is a fatal misfiring of the heart caused by low potassium levels. Ellis, who was serving a 30-day sentence at a state jail in Swanton, died two days after she arrived on Aug. 16. She was denied access to potassium pills she took for an eating disorder once she arrived at the jail, state officials said this week. A state police investigation into Ellis' death will be sent to the Franklin County prosecutor's office when it's complete. In the wake of the medical examiner's report, Ellis' family announced Friday that they have hired a Rutland law firm — Kenlan Schwiebert Facey & Goss. In a statement released through the firm, the family wrote "Our attorneys are reviewing what is clearly a very tragic situation, a situation that we think could have been prevented. We are trying not to come to any conclusions or make any decisions until we know all the facts and the facts are still being gathered." But Sandra Gipe, Ellis' grandmother, said Friday evening that she wants her granddaughter's death to have widespread consequences. "I don't want it to be for nothing," she said. "I want to see some of the changes they've been talking about. I don't want other people going to jail sick and not getting what they need. I hope something can be done in her name." Jack Facey, a member of the legal firm hired by the family, said the family's lawyers would focus for now on gathering facts. "We'll be looking at everything that happened between her getting dropped off at the facility and the time of her death and everything in-between," he said. "The family does believe what happened was preventable and they don't want it to happen again to someone else." State officials are in the process of hiring a new health care company for the prison system. For four years, Prison Health Services of Tennessee has had a contract with the state. That contract ends in January and Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito has said renewal would be doubtful, given the death of Ellis. But switching health care providers hasn't solved problems with the delivery of medical services in the jails in the past, according to the Defender General's Office and an organization that safeguards the rights of people with disabilities. "The state has a track record of hiring firms and providing millions of dollars to provide services but the result has always been the same old problem," A.J. Ruben, supervising attorney for Vermont Protection & Advocacy said. "I would question whether anything different is being done in this round of bids." The "same old problem," according to Ruben and state Defender General Matt Valerio, has been a history of spotty medical care, including postponements in providing medications — cited as part of Ellis' cause of death — delays or denials of requests for medical care. "The bottom line here is this is not an uncommon scenario. It's just that 99.9 percent of the time no one dies," Valerio said. "This whole thing really upsets me. Something good is going to come out of this. We need to make sure people are getting the health care they need." State Department of Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito agreed.

October 1, 2009 Rutland Herald
The private contractor that provides medical services to Vermont's prisons is pulling out of the state and the Vermont Department of Corrections commissioner said he's looking forward to their departure. Prison Health Services, the Tennessee-based company that has provided medical and mental health services to corrections for the last four years, announced earlier this month that it would not seek to renew its contract when it expires at the end of the year. To Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito, the company's decision appeared more than coincidental since PHS announced its intentions soon after Vermont inmate Ashley Ellis died from cardiac problems that the Vermont Medical Examiner concluded Wednesday were complicated by the "denial of access to medication" while Ellis was in the state jail in Swanton. "I suspect they now know that in all likelihood they would not win the bid again," Pallito said. PHS hasn't been implicated of any wrongdoing in an ongoing police investigation. However, an independent investigation by the state Defender General's Office found that a nurse ordered to give Ellis potassium for an eating disorder failed to do so. Pallito also said the DOC staff was never involved in dispensing medications. The company defended itself in an e-mail that said, "PHS is confident that, during the less than 48 hours that Ashley Ellis was in state custody, she received care that met applicable standards … We can state emphatically that PHS did not deny her access to medications." Asked why the company wasn't seeking to renew its contract, a spokesman for PHS replied, "It is a business decision." Pallito said the state had no problems with the health care provider during the previous four years. However, earlier this year, Mitchell Miller, a former regional medical director for Prison Health Services, had his license suspended after 55 counts of unprofessional conduct were brought against him for allegedly providing large amounts of narcotic prescription drugs to his private practice patients between 2000 and 2009. Pallito said he has reminded the company of its obligations to provide services through the remainder of its contract — and he said he's received assurances from PHS that those obligations will be met. That said, Pallito said he hopes to quickly select a new health care provider from a field of six bidders and have the new provider in place before the end of the PHS contract. The commissioner said his interest in quickly replacing PHS reflects a lack of faith in the continued quality of care at Vermont's corrections facilities. "I'm concerned with any business that says we're not going to continue doing business with you, but we want to complete our contract," he said. "I'm concerned that there is no more incentive for them to really impress us." Pallito wasn't the only state official not sorry to see PHS go. Sen. Richard Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the state needed to take steps to make sure no other inmates suffer Ellis' fate. One of those steps, he said, involved switching health care providers. "If it means changing the way the state does business with its contractor, so be it. Part of the problem is that the lowest bidder doesn't always give you the best value," Sears said, adding that PHS was the low bidder the last time the state shopped for a provider. "We need to look at communications in the system again too. This young lady was sentenced to 30 days, not life."

September 30, 2009 WCAX
Police say Ashley Ellis, 23, of Castleton, died in the state prison in St. Albans six weeks ago, about a day after she started serving a sentence for a probation violation. She reportedly weighed only 87 pounds because she suffered from the eating disorder anorexia. The state police investigation is not yet complete but Tuesday the state medical examiner ruled the cause of death as hypokalemic induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and denial of access to medication. She reportedly was supposed to be taking prescribed Potassium to treat her anorexia. "Under no circumstance does a corrections employee, DOC employee, dispense medication or care to an offender," Vt. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said. Pallito says a private contracted health company Prison Health Services Incorporated from Tennessee is responsible for providing 100 percent of all health services including medications to Vermont inmates. Pallito says he has seen no evidence so far that DOC employees were involved in any way in treating Ellis or providing her medications. Reporter Brian Joyce: Are you confident the department was in no way responsible for what happened to this young woman regarding her death? Pallito: You know the investigation will yield things, I'm sure, that I don't know about. But standing here today I'm pretty confident that the Department of Corrections followed through on the information and passed that information along that we were supposed to. Vt. Law School Professor and legal expert Cheryl Hanna said, "After reading the medical report on the cause of death, it suggests that there could be financial liability either on behalf of the company that was contracted to provide medical services at the prison. Or the state itself, depending on how the facts unravel in this case. The state itself could be liable for her death." Hanna says criminal charges are also possible-- depending on the outcome of the police investigation. State police say they expect to complete their investigation by the end of the week and turn over their findings to the Franklin County prosecutor. He will determine whether any criminal charges are warranted in this case. The corrections department says under its contract with Prison Health Services, the state is indemnified against any lawsuits. But Hanna says despite any contractual arrangement, it's possible a court could find that the state shares in the financial liability.

September 20, 2009 Times-Argus
When Ashley Ellis arrived at the state women's correctional facility in Swanton last month, she expected her medications to be there. After all, the 23-year-old's family had made calls and forwarded doctor's notes and prescription information to the Department of Corrections weeks in advance of Ellis' Aug. 14 arrival at the jail. But Ellis' grandmother has said corrections officials she spoke to just before her granddaughter went to jail didn't know about the prescriptions ,and told her Ellis could face sanctions if she showed up the jail with her prescription drugs in hand. The cause of Ellis' death two days after she arrived at the jail still is unknown, pending the results of a toxicology test. However, her grandmother and many of Ellis' friends and family believe Ellis was denied medicine for her eating disorder, and they are convinced the lack of medications was a factor in her death. It remains to be seen whether they're right about Ellis' cause of death. However, there is a consensus among watchdog groups and key members of a legislative committee set up to oversee the state's corrections system that there are problems with the delivery of medicines and medical treatment in state prisons. "It's been a problem for a number of years," state Defender General Matthew Valerio said. "There should be a way for people to get their meds. Unfortunately, this is a problem that goes back decades. It's not unique to this current administration." Valerio's office includes the Prisoners' Rights Office. But DOC officials said corrections staff and medical staff from the private company that contracts with the state to provide health care services at Vermont's prisons are doing the best they can meeting the needs for a challenging group of patients. "Some offenders don't answer questions truthfully or fully," said Dr. Deloris Burroughs-Biron, health services director for DOC. "It leaves the intake person in the dark." "Intake" is a process every Vermont inmate undergoes whether they're new arrivals off the street, post-conviction offenders arriving to serve their sentence, people on furlough or probation returning to jail or prisoners transferred from one jail to another. The process involves searches for contraband, evaluations for potential suicidal behavior and a question and answer session about medical needs and prescribed medications. DOC policy requires all incoming inmates to be interviewed by a nurse who collects information and then tries to verify prescriptions by calling the pharmacy that filled them, Burroughs-Biron said. For people incarcerated off the street, that process is the only way to determine an inmate's medical needs. For offenders who know they're going to jail days or weeks in advance, Burroughs-Biron said verifications can be made in advance and medicines can be ordered before they arrive. Asked about the complaints made by Ellis' family, Burroughs-Biron said she couldn't comment on an ongoing investigation. However, she said many problems could be cured through better communication. During her two years as director, Burroughs-Biron said she has tried to get the word out that her office needs to know about people with "complicated medical conditions" on their way to jail. Generally speaking, she said her attempts to foster dialogue have failed. "I've attempted to speak to public defenders, police and anyone else bringing us patients," she said. "It's important for us to know when someone has a complicated history. … Unfortunately, I haven't had a lot of feedback." But Valerio said the state's public defenders have been contacting Burroughs-Biron's office about client medical issues — most notably in Ellis' case. "(Public defender) Mary Kay Lanthier contacted Burroughs-Biron herself (one week) in advance," Valerio said. According to Valerio and members of Vermont Protection & Advocacy, a group that defends the rights of people with disabilities and mental health issues, the policies that Burroughs-Biron described aren't always adhered to. Valerio said he has seen a number of former inmates who have "deteriorated" inside the state's prison system because their medical needs weren't met or they were denied medicines for lengthy periods of time. "The issue goes deeper than verification," he said referring to the DOC emphasis on making sure the drugs inmates say they are taking are what they're actually prescribed. "Issues of cost cutting and institutional inertia exist." As an example of cost-cutting, Valerio said inmates have less access to doctors on weekends than on weekdays. But Burroughs-Biron said Valerio's example shows a "lack of familiarity" with the delivery of health care services in prison settings.

October 30, 2009 Rutland Herald
Franklin County State's Attorney Jim Hughes said his office won't seek criminal charges in the death of 23-year-old Ashley Ellis, who died after she was denied medication in the Swanton jail. "My charge was to review the case thoroughly," Hughes said Thursday. "My decision was to seek no charges against any individuals in the case." State Police have been investigating the Rutland woman's death since she collapsed and died at the women's correctional facility on the morning of Aug. 16 — just two days into a 30-day prison sentence for a misdemeanor charge of negligent operation of a motor vehicle. Ellis' grandparents, Clarendon residents Sandra and James Gipe, said they were unhappy with the decision, but not surprised. "We're really disappointed about what happened today," Sandra Gipe said. "But, on the other hand, it sounded like they couldn't figure out which person to blame. There are a lot of people involved in this." Last month, Ellis' family hired a lawyer to review potential civil charges in the case. On Thursday, the Gipes said their lawyer would be in contact with Hughes about his decision. "Right now, it's a he-said-she-said issue," James Gipe said. "No one wants to take responsibility for what happened." After reviewing 50 pages of medical records, charts and correspondence between Ellis' personal physician and employees of Prison Health Services, the contractor that provides health care services to all of Vermont's prisons, Hughes said he found no grounds for criminal charges despite a medical examiner's report that found that Ellis died, in part, because she was denied potassium pills for an anorexic condition. PHS has denied any wrongdoing in Ellis' death. Corrections officials and PHS employees were notified of Ellis' medical condition and her need for medication a week before she arrived at the prison. But after reviewing the case, Hughes said, there was no single person whose actions were either criminally or grossly negligent in the case. "There's not cause for me to file any criminal charges against any individual for the death of Ashley Ellis," he said. Asked if his office had reviewed potential criminal charges against PHS as a corporation, Hughes declined comment. The prosecutor also said he couldn't talk about details of the case or how events unfolded. He said he couldn't release the name of any PHS employees involved in Ellis' care or whether they were still working at the jail.

October 3, 2009 Rutland Herald
The family of Ashley L. Ellis, who died in jail while in state custody, has retained a legal team to review the 23-year-old's death. Ellis' family has had little to say this week after a medical examiner's report was released that found the Rutland woman died from a combination of hypokalemic induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and — as her grandmother predicted — "denial of access to medication." A layman's definition of the technical cause of death, provided by police, is a fatal misfiring of the heart caused by low potassium levels. Ellis, who was serving a 30-day sentence at a state jail in Swanton, died two days after she arrived on Aug. 16. She was denied access to potassium pills she took for an eating disorder once she arrived at the jail, state officials said this week. A state police investigation into Ellis' death will be sent to the Franklin County prosecutor's office when it's complete. In the wake of the medical examiner's report, Ellis' family announced Friday that they have hired a Rutland law firm — Kenlan Schwiebert Facey & Goss. In a statement released through the firm, the family wrote "Our attorneys are reviewing what is clearly a very tragic situation, a situation that we think could have been prevented. We are trying not to come to any conclusions or make any decisions until we know all the facts and the facts are still being gathered." But Sandra Gipe, Ellis' grandmother, said Friday evening that she wants her granddaughter's death to have widespread consequences. "I don't want it to be for nothing," she said. "I want to see some of the changes they've been talking about. I don't want other people going to jail sick and not getting what they need. I hope something can be done in her name." Jack Facey, a member of the legal firm hired by the family, said the family's lawyers would focus for now on gathering facts. "We'll be looking at everything that happened between her getting dropped off at the facility and the time of her death and everything in-between," he said. "The family does believe what happened was preventable and they don't want it to happen again to someone else." State officials are in the process of hiring a new health care company for the prison system. For four years, Prison Health Services of Tennessee has had a contract with the state. That contract ends in January and Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito has said renewal would be doubtful, given the death of Ellis. But switching health care providers hasn't solved problems with the delivery of medical services in the jails in the past, according to the Defender General's Office and an organization that safeguards the rights of people with disabilities. "The state has a track record of hiring firms and providing millions of dollars to provide services but the result has always been the same old problem," A.J. Ruben, supervising attorney for Vermont Protection & Advocacy said. "I would question whether anything different is being done in this round of bids." The "same old problem," according to Ruben and state Defender General Matt Valerio, has been a history of spotty medical care, including postponements in providing medications — cited as part of Ellis' cause of death — delays or denials of requests for medical care. "The bottom line here is this is not an uncommon scenario. It's just that 99.9 percent of the time no one dies," Valerio said. "This whole thing really upsets me. Something good is going to come out of this. We need to make sure people are getting the health care they need." State Department of Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito agreed.

October 1, 2009 Rutland Herald
The private contractor that provides medical services to Vermont's prisons is pulling out of the state and the Vermont Department of Corrections commissioner said he's looking forward to their departure. Prison Health Services, the Tennessee-based company that has provided medical and mental health services to corrections for the last four years, announced earlier this month that it would not seek to renew its contract when it expires at the end of the year. To Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito, the company's decision appeared more than coincidental since PHS announced its intentions soon after Vermont inmate Ashley Ellis died from cardiac problems that the Vermont Medical Examiner concluded Wednesday were complicated by the "denial of access to medication" while Ellis was in the state jail in Swanton. "I suspect they now know that in all likelihood they would not win the bid again," Pallito said. PHS hasn't been implicated of any wrongdoing in an ongoing police investigation. However, an independent investigation by the state Defender General's Office found that a nurse ordered to give Ellis potassium for an eating disorder failed to do so. Pallito also said the DOC staff was never involved in dispensing medications. The company defended itself in an e-mail that said, "PHS is confident that, during the less than 48 hours that Ashley Ellis was in state custody, she received care that met applicable standards … We can state emphatically that PHS did not deny her access to medications." Asked why the company wasn't seeking to renew its contract, a spokesman for PHS replied, "It is a business decision." Pallito said the state had no problems with the health care provider during the previous four years. However, earlier this year, Mitchell Miller, a former regional medical director for Prison Health Services, had his license suspended after 55 counts of unprofessional conduct were brought against him for allegedly providing large amounts of narcotic prescription drugs to his private practice patients between 2000 and 2009. Pallito said he has reminded the company of its obligations to provide services through the remainder of its contract — and he said he's received assurances from PHS that those obligations will be met. That said, Pallito said he hopes to quickly select a new health care provider from a field of six bidders and have the new provider in place before the end of the PHS contract. The commissioner said his interest in quickly replacing PHS reflects a lack of faith in the continued quality of care at Vermont's corrections facilities. "I'm concerned with any business that says we're not going to continue doing business with you, but we want to complete our contract," he said. "I'm concerned that there is no more incentive for them to really impress us." Pallito wasn't the only state official not sorry to see PHS go. Sen. Richard Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the state needed to take steps to make sure no other inmates suffer Ellis' fate. One of those steps, he said, involved switching health care providers. "If it means changing the way the state does business with its contractor, so be it. Part of the problem is that the lowest bidder doesn't always give you the best value," Sears said, adding that PHS was the low bidder the last time the state shopped for a provider. "We need to look at communications in the system again too. This young lady was sentenced to 30 days, not life."

September 30, 2009 WCAX
Police say Ashley Ellis, 23, of Castleton, died in the state prison in St. Albans six weeks ago, about a day after she started serving a sentence for a probation violation. She reportedly weighed only 87 pounds because she suffered from the eating disorder anorexia. The state police investigation is not yet complete but Tuesday the state medical examiner ruled the cause of death as hypokalemic induced cardiac arrhythmia due to anorexia/bulimia nervosa and denial of access to medication. She reportedly was supposed to be taking prescribed Potassium to treat her anorexia. "Under no circumstance does a corrections employee, DOC employee, dispense medication or care to an offender," Vt. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said. Pallito says a private contracted health company Prison Health Services Incorporated from Tennessee is responsible for providing 100 percent of all health services including medications to Vermont inmates. Pallito says he has seen no evidence so far that DOC employees were involved in any way in treating Ellis or providing her medications. Reporter Brian Joyce: Are you confident the department was in no way responsible for what happened to this young woman regarding her death? Pallito: You know the investigation will yield things, I'm sure, that I don't know about. But standing here today I'm pretty confident that the Department of Corrections followed through on the information and passed that information along that we were supposed to. Vt. Law School Professor and legal expert Cheryl Hanna said, "After reading the medical report on the cause of death, it suggests that there could be financial liability either on behalf of the company that was contracted to provide medical services at the prison. Or the state itself, depending on how the facts unravel in this case. The state itself could be liable for her death." Hanna says criminal charges are also possible-- depending on the outcome of the police investigation. State police say they expect to complete their investigation by the end of the week and turn over their findings to the Franklin County prosecutor. He will determine whether any criminal charges are warranted in this case. The corrections department says under its contract with Prison Health Services, the state is indemnified against any lawsuits. But Hanna says despite any contractual arrangement, it's possible a court could find that the state shares in the financial liability.

September 20, 2009 Times-Argus
When Ashley Ellis arrived at the state women's correctional facility in Swanton last month, she expected her medications to be there. After all, the 23-year-old's family had made calls and forwarded doctor's notes and prescription information to the Department of Corrections weeks in advance of Ellis' Aug. 14 arrival at the jail. But Ellis' grandmother has said corrections officials she spoke to just before her granddaughter went to jail didn't know about the prescriptions ,and told her Ellis could face sanctions if she showed up the jail with her prescription drugs in hand. The cause of Ellis' death two days after she arrived at the jail still is unknown, pending the results of a toxicology test. However, her grandmother and many of Ellis' friends and family believe Ellis was denied medicine for her eating disorder, and they are convinced the lack of medications was a factor in her death. It remains to be seen whether they're right about Ellis' cause of death. However, there is a consensus among watchdog groups and key members of a legislative committee set up to oversee the state's corrections system that there are problems with the delivery of medicines and medical treatment in state prisons. "It's been a problem for a number of years," state Defender General Matthew Valerio said. "There should be a way for people to get their meds. Unfortunately, this is a problem that goes back decades. It's not unique to this current administration." Valerio's office includes the Prisoners' Rights Office. But DOC officials said corrections staff and medical staff from the private company that contracts with the state to provide health care services at Vermont's prisons are doing the best they can meeting the needs for a challenging group of patients. "Some offenders don't answer questions truthfully or fully," said Dr. Deloris Burroughs-Biron, health services director for DOC. "It leaves the intake person in the dark." "Intake" is a process every Vermont inmate undergoes whether they're new arrivals off the street, post-conviction offenders arriving to serve their sentence, people on furlough or probation returning to jail or prisoners transferred from one jail to another. The process involves searches for contraband, evaluations for potential suicidal behavior and a question and answer session about medical needs and prescribed medications. DOC policy requires all incoming inmates to be interviewed by a nurse who collects information and then tries to verify prescriptions by calling the pharmacy that filled them, Burroughs-Biron said. For people incarcerated off the street, that process is the only way to determine an inmate's medical needs. For offenders who know they're going to jail days or weeks in advance, Burroughs-Biron said verifications can be made in advance and medicines can be ordered before they arrive. Asked about the complaints made by Ellis' family, Burroughs-Biron said she couldn't comment on an ongoing investigation. However, she said many problems could be cured through better communication. During her two years as director, Burroughs-Biron said she has tried to get the word out that her office needs to know about people with "complicated medical conditions" on their way to jail. Generally speaking, she said her attempts to foster dialogue have failed. "I've attempted to speak to public defenders, police and anyone else bringing us patients," she said. "It's important for us to know when someone has a complicated history. … Unfortunately, I haven't had a lot of feedback." But Valerio said the state's public defenders have been contacting Burroughs-Biron's office about client medical issues — most notably in Ellis' case. "(Public defender) Mary Kay Lanthier contacted Burroughs-Biron herself (one week) in advance," Valerio said. According to Valerio and members of Vermont Protection & Advocacy, a group that defends the rights of people with disabilities and mental health issues, the policies that Burroughs-Biron described aren't always adhered to. Valerio said he has seen a number of former inmates who have "deteriorated" inside the state's prison system because their medical needs weren't met or they were denied medicines for lengthy periods of time. "The issue goes deeper than verification," he said referring to the DOC emphasis on making sure the drugs inmates say they are taking are what they're actually prescribed. "Issues of cost cutting and institutional inertia exist." As an example of cost-cutting, Valerio said inmates have less access to doctors on weekends than on weekdays. But Burroughs-Biron said Valerio's example shows a "lack of familiarity" with the delivery of health care services in prison settings.

July 17, 2007 AP
An advocacy group says an inmate who died while incarcerated did not get the medical attention he needed. Michael Estabrook, 37, was an inmate at the state prison in Springfield for drunken driving when he died March 7, 2006 of heart failure at Fletcher Allen Health Care. Vermont Protection & Advocacy, a federally funded nonprofit agency that helps people with disabilities, released a report Friday saying that the state ignored Estabrook's requests for a medical furlough, didn't respond properly to his condition, ran out of his medications and placed a do-not-resuscitate order in his file. Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann disagrees with the findings. "Mr. Estabrook was a young man with many health issues, including severe heart disease which ended his life," Hofmann wrote in response to the group's report. Despite his poor health, Estabrook drank heavily, smoked marijuana, abused prescription drugs and missed doctor's appointments before and in between his prison terms, Hofmann said. Access to medical care in prison may have extended rather than shortened his life, Hofmann said. Estabrook was serving a three- to seven-year sentenced for drunken driving and driving without a license when he suffered acute renal failure in 2004 and was released on a medical furlough. Estabrook was arrested and imprisoned in April 2005 for missing a hearing. He sought a medical furlough but was denied. "We think there was good reason for him to get a medical furlough," said Ed Paquin, executive director of Vermont Protection & Advocacy. "I don't know what interest is served for a person like this to be incarcerated," he said of Estabrook, who had trouble walking, reported swollen ankles and shortness of breath. Hofmann said in 2005 Estabrook's condition was no longer deemed terminal and he believed Estabrook was a possible danger if released because he had been convicted six times of drunken driving. "My philosophy is that I will not furlough someone like that who even has the remotest chance of getting behind the wheel of a car," Hofmann said. "This guy was given a chance in 2004 that I wouldn't have given him and he blew it." Medications should be available in prison and the medical contractor was fined $36,000 for one contract year for failing to meet that mandate, Hofmann said. But records show Estabrook often refused his medications, more times than when the drugs were not available, Hofmann said.

January 11, 2007 Burlington Free Press
Inmates at Vermont's nine prisons will continue to receive health care from a Tennessee medical services provider -- but at a cost to the state that's projected to be $3.6 million more per year than the firm was paid in the past. Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann said Wednesday his department reluctantly had reached tentative agreement on a new contract with Prison Health Services Inc., pending the outcome of deliberations on final contract language. Prison Health Services beat out two competitors for the contract. The state hastily had to put the contract out to bid in November after Prison Health Services abruptly opted out of a $26 million, three-year contract it had with the department, complaining it was losing too much money to justify continuing its work in the state. "I'm very frustrated that this has taken the course it did," Hofmann said Wednesday, "but I think we got the best arrangement we could for the state of Vermont." Hofmann said the new contract will cover the next two years. Unlike the one it replaces, the deal contains a "cost-plus" provision that means the state will cover additional prisoner health care costs if they are unavoidable. "We have to provide health care for offenders," Hofmann said. "If the costs go up, I don't see any other option." Hofmann said the contract will include incentives to encourage Prison Health Services to keep down costs. He also said he is considering having prisoners share in the cost of health care by making minimal co-payments for services, as most health care users do. "The vast majority of corrections systems in the country have some kind of co-pay," Hofmann said. "It cuts down on the casual use of medical services and conditions people in the system to have some participation in health care decisions." Hoffmann said he was irritated that Prison Health Services had forced the state to re-bid the contract, but suspected the company had underestimated the costs of providing health care to prisoners in a small, rural state like Vermont.

November 14, 2006 Burlington Free Press
Vermont prisons are looking for a new medical services provider for the second time in three years following a decision by Prison Health Services Inc. to opt out of its contract with the state. Robert Hofmann, state Corrections Department commissioner, said Monday the Tennessee-based Prison Health Services notified him Oct. 30 that it would stop providing care to the state's 1,700 in-state inmates at the end of January. "Obviously, we're disappointed and a little bit surprised," Hofmann said of the company's decision. "There were some bumps in the road at the start of their contract but, really, over the past 12 months, they had been doing a very good job." The company's top three officials in Vermont resigned their posts just 10 months after it began operations in Vermont and the firm, along with the state, was sued last month by the family of an inmate who died from heroin withdrawal symptoms in 2005. Prison Health Services won the three-year, $26 million contract to provide health care to inmates at the state's nine prisons in early 2005. The previous contractor, Correctional Medical Services Inc., had come under fire for $700,000 in billing mistakes, including $144,547 for services that company employees never provided. Susan Morgenstern, a spokeswoman for Prison Health Services, said Monday that the company decided to opt out of the contract at the end of the second year because it was losing too much money. "The cost of providing health care to inmates has risen beyond the contract's ability to cover that cost," Morgenstern said in a statement released by the company. "Prison Health Services will never compromise the quality of our patient care because of financial reasons." According to a company Web site, Prison Health Services lost $1 million on its Vermont contract in the third quarter of 2006 alone, a figure that Hofmann disputed. Morgenstern said the staffing costs were an issue for the company in Vermont.

November 10, 2006 Vermont Guardian
Recent news that one of the nation’s largest prison health care providers, Prison Health Services (PHS), is backing out of its three-year contract with Vermont should be a wake-up call to the Douglas administration. Under pressure two years ago to improve the care it delivered to inmates, because the provider’s poor care at the time was linked to several deaths, Douglas et al took the lowest bidder. Now, that lowest bidder finds that it can’t make money off the contract and lost $1 million in the past three months, and it’s facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties for not properly staffing many of the prisons. A similar scenario occurred in Florida this year, too. Less than a year ago, PHS was the low bidder on a 10-year, $645 million contract. But, it was losing money — about $1.3 million in the past financial quarter — and facing fines of more than $700,000. So, what did it do? It backed out of the contract and then bid on the new contract. And, it won, adding more than $60 million to the original price tag. And, they got the award without having to pay the penalties from the last contract, and even though they were not the lowest bidder (they were second lowest). Vermont officials should be wary of any gamesmanship from PHS to simply try and win the contract by making too low a bid, and then trying to extort money from us later on. If nothing else, this should also send a clear signal that the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” holds true for prison contracts.

November 3, 2006 Vermont Guardian
After losing more than $1 million in three months, the out-of-state company in charge of providing medical services to Vermont’s nearly 1,700 inmates has told corrections officials it wants out of its three-year contract. The state and Prison Health Services have been at the bargaining table for the past four months, but hit an impasse Monday, company officials said, and gave the state three months notice that it would not finish the last year of its contract. “As state corrections departments and county officials in charge of jails around the country know, the cost of providing healthcare – particularly nursing services — continues to rise,” said Susan Morganstern, a PHS spokeswoman. “We have chosen to give notice of termination to the Vermont Department of Corrections because the cost of providing healthcare to inmates has risen beyond the contract’s ability to cover that cost. Prison Health Services will never compromise the quality of our patient care because of financial reasons.” Morganstern said the contract talks between the state and PHS were collegial, but the two sides could not come to an agreement. In a report filed Oct. 31 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, PHS’ parent company — America Service Group, Inc. of Brentwood, TN — characterized the talks this way: “Throughout the last four months, the Company engaged in comprehensive, good faith discussions with this client in order to reach a mutually beneficial solution to this contract's financial underperformance.” America Service Group is one of the larger providers of prison health care in the U.S. Despite the $1 million loss in Vermont, the company reported nearly $500 million in revenues this year as of Sept. 30, but a loss of roughly $551,000. Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann said PHS approached the state about four months ago in an attempt to negotiate down some of the penalties it was being levied by the state, and receive higher reimbursement for services mainly due to high labor costs. At the time, Hofmann said he informed lawmakers, including the legislative Corrections Oversight Committee, and other state officials about the negotiations. “I think they were losing money because their bid was possibly too aggressive, but most importantly they were running into Vermont’s tight labor market, especially in terms of finding medical staff,” Hofmann said. This meant the company had to pay higher wages to attract staff, coupled with the already difficult problem of getting people to work inside a prison. Also, at the time of the negotiations, Hofmann said the state had levied substantial penalties against PHS because they had not met all contract requirements. For example, in some cases the contract called for the company to have a registered nurse on a shift, but instead used a licensed practical nurse. Hofmann said the penalties were in the “high hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Some of those the state was willing to negotiate down, but others it wasn’t. The department's previous contractor — Correctional Medical Services — was criticized by legislators, inmate advocates and family members for not providing adequate medical treatment to inmates. In some cases, independent investigations found that a lack of medical and mental health care resulted in inmate deaths.

August 11, 2006 Burlington Free Press
The parents of an inmate who committed suicide in his cell in 2004 have sued the state Corrections Department, alleging that prison workers knew their son was thinking of killing himself but did not act to prevent his death. Ryan Rodriguez, 24, was found hanging in his cell Oct. 19, 2004 at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington. He died at Fletcher Allen Health Care four days later after his parents had him removed from life support. Court documents show he had been in jail for 15 months awaiting trial on charges he mistreated a toddler he was caring for at a Burlington motel. Rodriguez, from New Mexico, was visiting friends in Burlington at the time of his arrest. Rodriguez's death occurred six months after an independent study examined seven inmate deaths in an 18-month stretch, including two by suicide. The study found evidence the Corrections Department had mishandled inmates with mental health issues. "We had no idea Ryan was being treated so badly," Ryan Rodriguez's mother, Carol, said during a telephone interview last week from Tucson, Ariz., where she and her husband, Joe Rodriguez, live. "When Joe got there after Ryan's suicide, one of the guards told him to seek legal help. He said, 'This has happened previously here.'" The Rodriguezes allege in their lawsuit that four times during their son's 15 months in jail awaiting trial, he told Corrections officers he was thinking of hurting or killing himself but was never referred to mental health workers for help. The case, filed in federal court in Burlington, lists as defendants the Corrections Department, three of its employees and Correctional Medical Services, the department's medical care contractor at the time.

December 5, 2005 WCAX
Three top officials have resigned from the private company that provides health care services in Vermont's prisons. Neither state Corrections Department officials or the company, Prison Health Services, Inc., would say what led the officials to resign. "There is not going to be a disruption of care," said Prison Health spokeswoman Susan Morgenstern. The resignations were submitted by regional administrator Nancy Lawrence, senior program manager Nancy Elmer and nursing director Kelly McGeachin. Morgenstern wouldn't say if the women were forced to resign. "We can't discuss confidential personnel matters," Morgenstern said. Meanwhile, the Vermont Corrections Department is suing the company that used to provide mental health care in the state's prisons. The state claims Matrix Health Systems overcharged the Corrections Department by more than $500,000 between 2000 and 2003.

November 15, 2005 WCAX
Vermont's prisons are already full and now there's word they're about to be swamped. Corrections officials project Vermont's prison population will skyrocket at least 20% within five years, and that's sparking a debate over where to put all these convicts. But state lawmakers have rejected building new prisons in Vermont, so the Corrections Commissioner says the primary solution to overcrowding will be to send more inmates to do time in prisons located in Kentucky and Tennessee. State leaders will be looking at a number of options to out-of-state placement during the legislative session next year. However, the out-of-state placements have one additional factor that is very appealing to many: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA )-- a private, for-profit prison company -- charges Vermont $20,000 per inmate, per year to jail them in Kentucky and Tennessee. Meanwhile, the cost of jailing convicts in Vermont is $40,000 per year per inmate, 100% more. The difference is that CCA provides no counseling educational, or rehabilitation programs. The cost-per-inmate in Vermont includes many services and counseling, plus probation, parole, furlough, and other early release programs.

October 19, 2005 Rutland Herald
The Indiana resident starts work Nov. 7 as the Springfield prison's new superintendent. Ashburn started working at the sheriff's office in his Maryland hometown while still in high school. He became department sheriff and helped to open a county jail and a state prison. He later worked as an instructor at the Maryland Police and Corrections Training Academy. Robert Kupec, facilities executive for the Vermont Department of Corrections, said he was particularly impressed with Ashburn's experience setting standards and accreditation with the American Correctional Association. Ashburn also worked for Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison management company, for seven years. He was CCA's warden at Marion County Jail, a 1,000-bed prison in Indianapolis, Ind., two years ago and has served as senior director of customer relations and business development at CCA's corporate office. Ashburn's connection with the private company raised flags for Kurt Staudter, chairman of the town's Community Liaison Committee. "I don't have any respect for CCA as a company," he said. CCA came under criticism after a riot last September at its 800-inmate Lee Adjustment Center in Kentucky. Half of those inmates were Vermont prisoners, some of whom were involved in the riot. The riot incident, which occurred after Ashburn worked for CCA, put a spotlight on Vermont's policy of sending large numbers of prisoners out of state. The Corrections Department sent a staffer to the Lee Adjustment Center to monitor the treatment of Vermont inmates there. CCA agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for failing to adequately organize, equip, train the staffers whose job was to respond to the riot. When the Springfield prison was built two years ago, Howard Dean promised the committee that as long as he was governor, the state's prison system would not be privatized. Staudter said privatization has become a constant concern.

October 13, 2005 Rutland Herald
The state will likely hire a Virginia company to provide mental health care to inmates of the state's prisons. For several years, Dr. Paul Cotton has been doing that job, although his company has come under criticism in a state auditor's report by prisoners' rights advocates and the state employee's union. The Department of Corrections is negotiating with winning bidder MHM Correctional Services Inc. of Vienna, Va. If the state and the company can reach a final agreement, MHM is tentatively scheduled to take over in February. The contract will likely be for two years or more. After a 2004 audit by then-state auditor Elizabeth Ready - which found that Cotton's company had billed for services that were not provided - the company returned $143,000 in a settlement with the state.

March 21, 2005 Corrections.com
Providing quality healthcare and lowering costs are challenges that drive many corrections agencies towards private companies.  But once the contract is signed and the deal is done, departments can't turn a blind eye to what's going on in their facilities; they need to manage those contracts with private service providers to ensure that they are getting what they bargained for. Vermont learned this lesson the hard way when seven inmate deaths in a year's time prompted the DOC and the State Auditor's Office to take a closer look at healthcare, among other things, at the state's correctional facilities.  Both the Auditor's Report and the report ordered by the Vermont Agency of Human Services found that the DOC needed to step up its contract oversight. Chief among those contracts that required better monitoring was the department's arrangement with Correctional Medical Services (CMS), the state's inmate healthcare provider.  According to the Auditor's Report, the state suffered financially from ineffective monitoring of the CMS contract and had no real way to evaluate the quality of the services the company was providing to inmates. Since the reports were released last year, the Vermont DOC has committed to improving the way it does business with private contractors.  The agency believes it took a step in the right direction in early 2005 when it entered into a contractual agreement with a new healthcare provider, Prison Health Services (PHS).

December 9, 2004 Rutland Herald
A Burlington-based mental health company will return $143,000 to the state for contracted services to prison inmates the state claims it did not provide.  Corrections Commissioner Steven Gold told a panel of lawmakers Wednesday that the state reached a settlement under which Paul Cotton would return the money.  Cotton's firm last spring was the subject of a scathing report by State Auditor Elizabeth Ready, who charged that the Corrections Department paid the contractor a lump sum in advance and then the company never delivered the services.  "We had an auditor go in and audit the timekeeping," Gold told the Mental Health Oversight Committee.  Ready issued her report in the wake of six inmate deaths within an 18-month period. Assistant Attorney General Bill Griffin said the financial settlement did not address any claims of harm to inmates. Prisoners or their families must address any such issues through the court system, he said. Cotton's firm continues to provide mental health services to Vermont's 1,600 inmates and has a contract with a maximum value of $5.1 million.

November 11, 2004 Times Argus
The company recently awarded a $26 million contract to provide health care to Vermont inmates has been the subject of more than 1,000 prisoner lawsuits and complaints from officials of states where it has done business.  The details of Vermont's contract with Prison Health Services are still being worked out, according to Deputy Corrections Commissioner Sister Janice Ryan, who said they will "address the concerns raised by Vermont inmates and advocates,'' but declined to elaborate. Prison Health Services, which beat out four other companies for the three-year contract to provide health care to Vermont inmates that is scheduled to take effect on Feb. 1, is a Tennessee-based firm that provides services to about 235,000 prisoners nationwide. Medical treatment in Vermont prisons has been problematic. In May, state auditor Elizabeth Ready criticized the Department of Corrections for not adequately monitoring the delivery of health care by Correctional Medical Services (CMS), which is under contract to provide health care through January. Ready also criticized CMS for billing Vermont for services that were never provided. At least one other state that has used Prison Health Services was disappointed with its performance. Maine declined to renew its contract with the company because of "performance problems'' said Maine Corrections Department spokeswoman Denise Lord.
An outside audit of the company's work there found numerous problems, including insufficient review of patient charts, inadequate provisions for patient privacy and insufficient peer review of physician performance.

August 23, 2004
The company providing mental health care services at Vermont prisons is still engaging in improper billing practices, a top Corrections Department official said.  Tom Powell, clinical services director for the Corrections Department, said in a July 1 letter to the Burlington-based Paul Cotton corporation, that the company was miscategorizing which employees worked what hours.  (Rutland Herald)

July 29, 2004
Laura Ziegler, advocate on mental health and inmate rights, made the suggestion at the start of a public hearing Wednesday sponsored by the Department of Corrections. The department is about to solicit bidders to provide medical care at the state's prison facilities and asked for comments on the guidelines it plans to send out to potential contractors.  Barry Kade of Alliance for Prison Justice told corrections officials that inmates certainly have opinions about the medical care they receive now. He's been making monthly visits to Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport for seven years. "The most consistent complaint I've heard is about medical care."  Although the department planned to close the public comment period by Monday, Tom Powell, clinical program director, agreed with Ziegler's suggestion. He promised to provide copies of the guidelines to inmates, invite their comments and allow extra time for their responses.  The state would like to begin advertising for a new medical care provider by the end of August, with bids due Oct. 1. The winning bidder would take over medical care in the prisons by Feb. 1.  Correctional Medical Services of St. Louis provides health services and could submit a bid to continue. The state, however, has drawn up new requirements for the services _ such as providing an ombudsman to settle disputes between care providers and inmates.  Theresa McAvinney, a registered nurse who recently left the clinic at the prison in Newport, said at Wednesday's hearing that she saw a gap between the kind of care required on paper and the kind of care delivered. "I had to intervene in many cases of men who were neglected," she said.  Other nurses who work at prisons raised labor issues that they said ought to be addressed in a contract with the next medical provider.  Deb Moore, a registered nurse practitioner at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, urged officials to require in-depth orientation about security issues for all new health workers. "Nobody trained me," said Moore, who has worked at the South Burlington jail for two years.  Job training and orientation would help retain nurses, Moore said. Turnover is a significant problem at the Chittenden jail.  (Channel 3 News)

July 29, 2004
The Department of Corrections has scheduled hearings for the public to comment about the health services that should be offered to inmates at the state's prisons.  Corrections Commissioner Steve Gold says this is the first time the department has held public hearings before seeking bids for a health care contract. One hearing was to take place Wednesday at the Sheraton Hotel in South Burlington. A second is scheduled for Thursday at the Holiday Inn Express in Springfield.  The state contracts with Correctional Medical Services to provide health services at state prisons. The contract runs out this year but has been extended to February.  Health services in the prisons cost the state $7 million a year. Gold expects the cost to increase by 10 percent or more under the next contract.  A rash of inmate deaths has put the health care system at the state's prisons under scrutiny over the past year. In one case investigators concluded that prison officials failed to respond promptly and adequately to an inmate's repeated pleas for medical care. His condition became so serious he couldn't recover.  (Wcax.com)

May 26, 2004
The state has paid more than $800,000 for prison medical services it did not receive and was routinely overbilled by several contractors, according to a report released Tuesday by state auditor Elizabeth Ready. She blamed the problems on inadequate management practices.  The report alleges that Correctional Medical Services, the St. Louis firm that has a $23.9 million contract to provide medical and dental services to Vermont inmates, billed the state for full health care coverage even when it provided insufficient staffing. The report also charges that the firm double billed the department for drug costs that were reimbursed.  Since Ready began the audit, CMS has already credited Vermont for $100,000 for missed staff hours and the contractor for mental health services has credited the state for $60,000.  Ready began her audit in February, in the wake of complaints by inmates, lawmakers, prisoner rights advocates and the Vermont State Employees Association after the deaths of six inmates and one person on furlough during an 18-month period. The audit issued Tuesday also concluded that the Department of Corrections did not adequately monitor the costs of mental health drugs prescribed by psychiatrists and provided by CMS, nor did department officials require CMS to provide financial reports on a timely basis as required in the contract.  Ready's report reiterated her previous complaints to Gold about crowded conditions and inadequate eating facilities at CCA's Marion Adjustment Center in St, Mary, Ky.  CCA has made changes to address those concerns and Gold said he is 
satisfied with the company's response.  The report also said that the Department of Corrections failed to receive penalties for services not delivered under the $7 million worth of contracts for treatment services signed since 2000.  (Rutland Herald)

February 22, 2004
State Auditor Elizabeth Ready is looking into how the state awards and monitors contracts for prisoner care in response to six inmate deaths and concerns about prisoners' mental and physical health.  "We have gotten a lot of complaints from prisoner advocates and letters from prisoners," she said Friday. "Some people have told us that conditions have been allowed to fester until they became chronic. We want to see what is causing some of the problems and if the state is getting its money's worth."  The audit will focus on about $50 million in Correction Department contracts for out-of-state prisoner housing, and medical, mental health and substance abuse services at the state's prisons for medical care, mental health and substance abuse and sex offender and Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, chairman of the Senate Institutions Committee, requested an audit in December. He said the deaths "suggest a breakdown in services, policies, or both."  Corrections Commissioner Steve Gold said Friday that he welcomes the audit and predicted it would find the department's practices to be sound. However, he added that budget cuts imposed by the Legislature in the past several years had forced his agency to reduce the number of staff assigned to monitor quality assurance.  Six deaths occurred over an 18-month period, including two suicides. The most recent suicide was in October, when inmate James Quigley hanged himself at the St. Albans prison.  Quigley, who was serving a life sentence for murder, had been in solitary confinement for 118 days after being transferred to St. Albans from the Newport jail.  An independent examination by a disabilities rights group found that systematic failures at two prisons led to the suicide of Lawrence Bessette Jr. in May 2003.  Montpelier lawyer Michael Marks and former New Hampshire Attorney General Philip McLaughlin, who are conducting the investigation of conditions in the state prison system at the request of Gov. James Douglas, have said they are paying considerable attention to physical and mental health treatment and the way prisoners' complaints are handled.  They said they expect to complete their investigation by March 15.  Illuzzi has introduced legislation to cancel a $5 million contract with a private firm for providing prisoner mental health services.  Illuzzi also said he may reintroduce legislation to have state employees monitor the contract at all prison sites. That measure has passed the Senate in previous years but was killed in a House-Senate conference committee.  (Boston.com)

August 14, 2003
Vermont inmates being held at a Virginia prison are likely to be moved to another state this fall.  Private companies in Kentucky, Texas and Louisiana have offered to charge less to house the prisoners, Vermont Corrections Department officials said.   Defender General Matthew Valerio said his office has advocated for keeping Vermont prisoners in Vermont prisons.  He said the move to a private prison could be problematic.  Private prisons are run for profit and he worries that prisoners' services might suffer so the companies can make a profit.  (AP)

July 1, 2002
The Department of Corrections is taking bids from other states on housing its out-of-state prisoners, which means the inmates now in Virginia could be sent elsewhere.  The opens up the contract to either private or public jails.  "If we can't get  a better price, that's always in our best interest, as long as we don't sacrifice the quality of our programs for it," said Andrew Pallito, management executive for the department.  The possible use of private jails puts the state in a new arena.  Private jails tend to be less expensive than public ones, Pallito said.  The Corrections Department never looked to private jails in the past because the department did not have the legal ability to house prisoners in private facilities, Perry said.  The Legislature changed the rule to broaden the search when it ordered the department to put the contract out to bid.  Defender General Matthew Valerio said it's too soon to tell whether the bidding process will make life worse or better for the out-of-state prisoners.  He also has reservations about private prisons, which are for for profit.  "If it's a matter of making money, a private entity is going to cut cost," Valerio said.  "A public entity is going to figure out some way to provide the appropriate services after they cut costs to whatever reasonable extent they can."  (The Associated Press State and Local Wire)

Vermont Department of Corrections
Mar 4, 2017 benningtonbanner.com
Two prison-related lawsuits settled
BENNINGTON — A local man has secured settlement agreements in two suits he filed against one of the nation's largest privately owned prison operators. Eric Lambert, 29, who said he was twice injured while serving a prison sentence in a Kentucky facility operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), filed the suits in Superior Court Civil Division in Bennington and Windham counties. As of Thursday, both Judge John Valente in the Bennington court and Judge Michael Kainen in the Windham court in Newfane had signed off on requests by the parties involved to dismiss the cases, following negotiated settlements. In the suit filed in 2015 in Bennington, Lambert, who was serving a Vermont sentence in November 2013 on burglary and other charges in an out-of-state facility in Beatyville, Ken., said he sustained a severely lacerated hand while operating a power saw. The complaint described his injuries as "continuing and are permanent." In the second suit in the Windham court, filed in 2016, Lambert alleged he was injured when assaulted by another inmate, George Tarbell, in the Kentucky facility in December 2013. He alleged that the assault occurred in an exercise yard at the facility when a guard was not at his assigned post and the area was not within view of guards or security personnel. The suit alleged that Corrections Corporation of America/CoreCivic undertook the responsibility of providing Lambert with a safe environment in which to live and work and failed to live up to that responsibility. In the suit in the Windham court, Lambert sought compensatory damages plus interest and costs and attorney fees, along with punitive damages. In its response to both suits, the company denied the allegations. Lambert was represented in each suit by Thomas Costello, of the Brattleboro firm Costello, Valente & Gentry, who could not be reached for comment. CoreCivic was represented in both cases by Jennifer G. Mihalich, of Lynn, Lynn, Blackman & Manitsky, of Burlington. Reached via email, she referred comment to CoreCivic spokesman Steven Owen. He said in a release: "These matters have been resolved. While we can't speak to the specifics of the suits, we are committed to the safety of the individuals entrusted to our care." No further details of the settlements were released. Lambert had been sentenced in January 2013 to a 3- to 15-year term after pleading guilty to multiple burglary counts and other charges. He has since been paroled under supervision of the Department of Corrections office in Bennington. According to the national firm's website, CoreCivic, which is based in Nashville, "houses nearly 70,000 inmates in more than 70 facilities, the majority of which are company-owned, with a total bed capacity of more than 80,000. [The company] currently partners with all three federal corrections agencies (the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement), many states and local municipalities." Vermont's contract with the company to house some of its inmates ended in 2015, when the state entered into a contract with GEO Group to house inmates at its North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich.

Feb 16, 2017 benningtonbanner.com
Vermont: Former CCA inmate sues over injury
BENNINGTON — A suit filed by a local man injured in a table saw accident while he was serving prison time in 2013 is scheduled for a pretrial conference in Bennington Superior Court Civil Division on March 1. Eric Lambert was serving a sentence on burglary charges in an out-of-state facility in Kentucky in November 2013 when he sustained a severely lacerated hand while operating a power saw, according to the complaint, which said his injuries are "continuing and are permanent." Lambert had been sentenced in January 2013 to a 3- to 15-year term after pleading guilty to six counts of burglary, four counts of selling stolen property, two counts of grand larceny, two charges of violating his curfew, and one count each of petit larceny; unlawful trespass, providing false information to police, possession of marijuana, prescription fraud, and possession of burglary tools. At the time of the injury, he was serving time at a Corrections Corporation of America facility in Beatyville, Ken. The suit was filed in April 2015. Lambert, 29, who currently is paroled under supervision of the Department of Corrections office in Bennington, is represented by Thomas Costello, of the Brattleboro firm Costello, Valente & Gentry. The privately owned prison firm, Corrections Corporation of America, which owned the facility, is represented in the matter by Jennifer G. Mihalich, of Lynn, Lynn, Blackman & Manitsky, of Burlington. Neither Costello nor Mihalich could be reached for comment. The suit alleges that Corrections Corporation of America undertook the responsibility of providing Lambert with a safe environment in which to live and work and failed to live up to that responsibility. The amount of damages sought was not specified in the complaint. In its response to the suit, the company denied the allegations. According to the national firm's website, "CCA houses nearly 70,000 inmates in more than 70 facilities, the majority of which are company-owned, with a total bed capacity of more than 80,000. CCA currently partners with all three federal corrections agencies (the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement), many states and local municipalities." Vermont's contract with the company to house some of its inmates ended in 2015, when the state entered into a contract with GEO Group to house inmates at its North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich. There were 265 male Vermont inmates at that privately owned facility in late December, according to a VTDigger.org report.

Nov 6, 2015 vtdigger.org

LEGAL SETTLEMENT EXTENDS PUBLIC RECORDS LAWS TO OUT-OF-STATE PRISON CONTRACTOR

A court case settled this week involving access to records held by a private out-of-state prison contractor could have implications for other public records in Vermont. After more than two-and-a-half years of litigation, the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, on behalf of Prison Legal News, and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) settled a case involving access to records held by the private prison contractor. CCA had refused to supply Prison Legal News, national monthly news service, with records relating to lawsuits brought by Vermont inmates housed in the CCA’s private prison facilities. In a January 2014 decision by Judge Robert Bent in Washington Superior Court denied CCA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, writing, “Imprisonment is one of the most intrinsically governmental of functions.” “CCA holds Vermonters in captivity; disciplines them; pervasively regulates their liberty, and carries out the punishment imposed by the sovereign,” Bent continued. “These are uniquely governmental acts. CCA could have no lawful basis for such an undertaking except on authority of a government. It is no ordinary government contractor.” Until June, several hundred Vermont inmates were housed in prisons owned by CCA in Kentucky and Arizona. The state opted not to renew its contract with CCA, switching to the GEO Group instead. Some 270 Vermonters are currently housed at a for-profit prison in Baldwin, Michigan. Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the ACLU, said that Vermont’s decision is not unusual in the national context. “This is not a novel determination, this has happened in other states in similar cases involving CCA,” Gilbert said. But, the implications of the ruling could stretch beyond contracts with prisons to other private entities that contract with the state to perform governmental functions, Gilbert said. Robert Appel, who formerly headed Vermont’s Human Rights Commission, heralded the decision as “a very important case.” “The principle is readily transferrable,” Appel said. “Whether you like it or not, many public functions have been farmed out to private entities over the last several decades.” Appel noted that there has been a trend to privatize services that were formerly performed by the state. “That privatization should not exempt those private entities from complying with the Public Records Act,” Appel said. The case could have a bearing on the state’s designated agencies — the private, nonprofit organizations with which the state contracts to deliver services to Vermonters. The designated agencies have assumed responsibility for many services that state employees used to deliver, including mental health services that were once handled through the state hospital in Waterbury. Records held by private contractors would still be subject to exceptions under the public records act — including information like an individual’s health records, Appel said. Appel also noted that the decision affirms a change to the state public records law adopted by the Legislature regarding attorney’s fees. The fact that the complainant was not burdened with the cost of litigation is an important step in ensuring that records are truly accessible to the public, he said. “Very few people have the resources” to fund court proceedings to challenge access to public records, Appel said. Defender General Matt Valerio expects that the decision will have the impact of giving the public greater access to records. Valerio said the access to private entities’ records would likely largely be positive, but was wary about respecting existing privileges — such as attorney client privilege or privacy guaranteed under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). “If those are somehow bypassed, that could be a negative thing for individuals,” Valerio said. Valerio’s office, which encompasses the prisoner’s rights office, interacts with Vermont’s out-of-state prison providers frequently. The court case will not have any impact on their work, because of their statutory role. However, Valerio said, any difficulties his office has had accessing records from out-of-state prison contractors in the past have been more practical in nature. The bigger issue is that the state does not have a strong relationship with the individuals who work for CCA, or, now, the GEO Group. But communications challenges are typically resolved fairly quickly, he said.

Jun 30, 2015 vtdigger.org
SIX WEEKS AFTER, VERMONT OFFICIALS AWAIT DETAILS OF OUT-OF-STATE INMATE’S DEATH

Six weeks after the death of a Vermont inmate, the Department of Corrections is still awaiting a final report on the cause of death. James Nicholson died May 18 while incarcerated at a prison in Kentucky run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said Monday that he understands that Nicholson had some existing health conditions. The inmate, who was in his 60s, was housed in the prison’s infirmary at the time of his death. “I have no reason to believe that anything is amiss in that case,” Pallito said Monday, “but until I see a death certificate I don’t know for sure.”

Nicholson was reportedly involved in a fight several weeks before his death. It is unclear if there is any correlation between the altercation and his death. Pallito said he expects to hear from the coroner in Kentucky in the next few weeks. He said that the DOC is working directly with the coroner’s office, rather than CCA. The lengthy wait for conclusions about Nicholson’s death illustrates the challenges associated with overseeing prisoners held at correctional facilities out of state. Communication becomes more complicated any time an inmate is out of the DOC’s custody or when state borders are involved, Pallito said. When Patrick Fennessey, an inmate at Southern State Correctional Facility, died at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire on April 25, the Department of Corrections was notified of the death three days later.
 Special Report: The intersection of mental illness and corrections.

Pallito said that there were “a ton of emails going back and forth” in the days after Fennessey was hospitalized, and that the DOC “kept asking the question.” “We’re dealing with another state, and so it’s just not as easy,” Pallito said. A panel of lawmakers that meets outside the legislative session to oversee Vermont’s corrections system put off discussion of Nicholson’s death at their meeting last week. They also did not discuss the deaths of Annette Douglas, an inmate in the state’s only women’s prison who died in January, or that of Fennessey, who died after attempting suicide at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who was elected chair of the committee at the meeting, said discussion was delayed because Defender General Matt Valerio, whose office investigates prisoner deaths, could not attend. Sears said that it will be more appropriate to discuss the three deaths at the next meeting, likely be in August, once the DOC has more answers about Nicholson’s death. “That’s another problem with out-of-state [prisons],” Sears said. “When something happens, it’s in a different state.” Gordon Bock, an advocate with the prisoners’ rights group CURE, questioned the lack of committee discussion about the inmate deaths. “I’m just appalled that the families of these three deceased prisoners have no closure as to what actually happened to their loved ones,” Bock said. The Legislature passed a law in 2014 clarifying the role of the Defender General’s office in investigating prisoner complaints. Investigators in Valerio’s office ran into barriers when investigating inmate Robert Mossey’s 2013 death by suicide. Bock questions whether the law provides the Defender General’s Office with the authority for sufficient independent oversight. Valerio said his office is well-equipped to handle investigations inside prisons. The staff responsible for investigating prisoner deaths has doubled since he became Defender General in 2001. There are now two full-time investigators, and four full-time attorneys and one part-time working on inquiries. The office completed a probe into Douglas’s death in March. Investigations into Fennessey and Nicholson’s cases are ongoing. Valerio said the six-week wait for the coroner’s report on Nicholson from Kentucky did not seem unusual to him. However, he has concerns about local cooperation with the investigation, especially as Vermont is days away from leaving the prison in Kentucky. Vermont’s contract with CCA expires at the end of this month. Some 280 Vermont inmates housed in two CCA facilities in Kentucky and Arizona are expected to be transferred this week to a single facility in Michigan run by the GEO Group, another for-profit corrections company.

Oct 30, 2013 vtdigger.org

The Corrections Department could do a better job of minimizing the health care costs of its inmates, according to the State Auditor’s Office. The Department of Corrections (DOC) contracts with Correct Care Solutions (CCS) of Nashville, Tenn., to provide health services to its inmates. From Feb. 1, 2010, until Jan. 31, 2013, the state paid CCS $53.3 million to provide health care services to the roughly 1,500 inmates incarcerated at in-state facilities — $4.2 million over what the state had budgeted. The audit, released Monday, shows that the structure of that contract, coupled with gaps in the department’s oversight, have left CCS with little incentive to keep costs to a minimum. “Since it’s a cost-plus-management fee contract, the state bears the financial risk and the contractor lacks incentive to minimize costs,” State Auditor Doug Hoffer explained in a statement to the press. The audit also concludes that the department hasn’t kept close enough tabs on CCS to ensure the company is billing properly when inmates have insurance, and to ensure it procures medication for soon-to-be-released inmates in the cheapest way possible. The DOC’s health services director, Dr. Dee Burroughs Biron, said she appreciated the recommendations from the auditor’s office but the department has already been working to address the major red flags — “The audit is a retrospective view of what we’ve been doing,” she said. The DOC’s three-year contract with CCS was extended to January 2015. Burroughs Biron said the department is in the midst of a two-year planning effort to shed the for-profit contract and instead adopt a community-based model that would rely on local agencies and federally qualified health centers to provide services. “We would like to take a bold leap in Vermont and do something that is more Vermont-centric,” Burroughs Biron said. The initiative was prompted by an earlier review, completed in 2012 by the consulting firm Public Consulting Group, as part of Act 41, or the War on Recidivism Act. Hoffer’s audit uncovered one instance in which CCS failed to bill Medicaid for an inmate’s medical procedure, which cost $84,000. Burroughs Biron said that the DOC noticed this soon after, and corrected the situation. “We have in place a reconciliation procedure so you can catch those types of things. That did get billed to Medicaid because it got picked up very soon after. There was no loss to the state. We had already caught that,” she said. The audit also turned up an instance in which the prescriptions for two inmates being released from the Chittenden Regional facility cost the DOC $1,100 more than it could have because CCS returned the medication it had already ordered from a large supplier and instead ordered prescriptions from local pharmacies — a more expensive option. Burroughs Biron said the department’s priority is making sure inmates, many of whom deal with serious health problems, don’t experience a lapse in their medication. “Maybe they have diabetes or hypertension. I don’t think it’s fair to have them leave with less than adequate medication,” she said. “Can we do better with getting those medications from a major pharmacy provider? We used to do that and we are going back to that, but the important bottom line is that people are getting their medication. I think I try to balance the cost with the care that is provided.” Some of the oversight problems uncovered by Hoffer’s office coincide with a period of understaffing in the DOC health team, a situation that has since been remedied. The audit notes that CCS failed to meet certain contractual requirements between August 2010 and December 2011, but it took the DOC until 2013 to actually penalize the company. By allowing so much time to elapse, the report concludes, “DOC lost the opportunity to offer a monetary incentive for CCS to correct its deficiencies in a timely manner.” Burroughs Biron, who started as health services director in 2007, left the department in October 2010, which exacerbated the understaffing of its health team. Burroughs Biron returned in 2012, and a new contract monitor was hired in October. The audit concludes that DOC’s “cost monitoring,” which it described as “not robust” up until then, had improved by late 2012. “DOC has made substantial improvements to both their cost and performance monitoring processes in the past year. However, more needs to be done to help ensure that the State is not paying excessive amounts for the services that it is purchasing.” Burroughs Biron said the DOC is still constrained by limited staff — it only employs six people to oversee the entire health services system for inmates, who are spread out among eight different facilities throughout the state. “All our providers are Vermonters, and they are working their rear ends off to do a very good job to serve the corrections population,” she said. “I would just emphasize the hard work that goes into this, providing health services day after day. It is a tremendous outpouring of energy and effort and, yes, the money — it doesn’t come for free.”

Vermont Legislature
CCA
Dec 3, 2014 vtdigger.org

DISTANCE MAKES OVERSIGHT HARD, PRISONERS’ RIGHTS ATTORNEY SAYS: The state office charged with protecting the rights of prisoners has a hard time doing so for Vermont inmates housed outside Vermont, Defender General Matthew Valerio told lawmakers Monday. Valerio testified in the Statehouse about the difficulty of keeping tabs on prisoners housed in Kentucky and Arizona. The state’s practice of housing inmates in other states is controversial and lawmakers this fall have debated it frequently. The state corrections department contracts with private prison company Corrections Corporation of America to house about 500 prisoners in facilities in Kentucky and Arizona because prisons in Vermont are overcrowded. Valerio’s testimony came two weeks after the Corrections Oversight Committee heard from Vergennes residents Chuck and Denise Strona, whose son is an inmate in Kentucky, about their alleged difficulty contacting the Prisoners’ Rights Office. The Prisoners’ Rights Office is an office within the Defender General’s office that addresses issues that arise among inmates including prison conditions, prison discipline, post-conviction relief, furlough and health care. The office is made up of five attorneys and two investigators and is run by attorney Seth Lipschutz. One investigator visits Vermont prisons daily. An investigator travels to Kentucky two or three times a year. The corrections department sends staff to Kentucky monthly, according to commissioner Andy Pallito. Lipschutz’s office has been in contact for many months with the Stronas, he told lawmakers Monday. Without divulging specifics, Lipschutz said the parents’ complaints about their son’s conditions are different from what the son has told them about his experiences at the Lee Adjustment Center in Kentucky, he said. But the Stronas’ situation highlighted for lawmakers the fact that the 1,000 miles between Montpelier and Beattyville, Ky., makes oversight difficult. Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, said he wants to know there is enough oversight from the Prisoners’ Rights Office and the Department of Corrections at out-of-state facilities to know that the staffing levels are what CCA says they are, and that those levels are adequate. “I think there is an advocacy role that is independent of the department. I want to know that both in Kentucky and Arizona that we have enough eyes on the ground to know what’s going on,” Lippert said. “We do not have the resources, people, time, to monitor whether or not CCA is being compliant with its staffing requirements or anything like that,” Valerio said. It would be ideal to have a full-time investigator in Kentucky, Lipschutz said, but money is always a constraint. Prisoners sent to Kentucky do not have special needs such as complex health issues. That is because there are no treatment, rehabilitation or education programs in the Kentucky prison, Pallito said. The Kentucky prison is a “low stress place to do time.” The Arizona facility is for high-risk offenders, but only about 40 prisoners are kept there, compared to about 450 in Kentucky. “The biggest thing down there is not much is required of the inmates and so they have a lot of time on their hands,” Valerio said. Valerio said his office gets more complaints from Vermont facilities but believes that could be because there are more people in Vermont. The office relies more on complaints for out-of-state prisons than they do for Vermont facilities, which they visit more proactively. They only go to Kentucky as a result of a crisis, he said. Many complaints in Kentucky are about medical services, which are not as good as in Vermont, officials said. In general lawmakers are against the practice of sending prisoners out of state, except that it is the cheapest immediate solution to overcrowding. Lawmakers are meanwhile working on strategies to reduce the prison population, and legislation to help that process may be introduced this session. Over the years there have been several uprisings among prisoners, including several assaults last winter that led to a lockdown at the Kentucky facility. A fracas in Arizona in August led to 13 Vermont inmates being placed in solitary confinement, Seven Days reported. In 2004 inmates rioted in Kentucky after allegations of guard abuse. Valerio said the cycle of insurrection repeats itself, and said similar incidents have occurred in Vermont facilities as recently as at the end of 2013 and again in early 2014. Lawmakers asked for strategies for improving the situation, and suggested that the Defender General’s office could be present at meetings with the Department of Corrections and Corrections Corporation of America. Valerio said he doesn’t want to impede DOC’s good relationship with CCA. The Defender General’s office, meanwhile, has no real relationship with the CCA staff because they visit so rarely, whereas DOC has a good relationship with them, he said. “Clearly the CCA folks don’t look at us in an accommodating way,” Valerio said.


Nov 26, 2014 vtdigger.org

The state will not appeal a court decision that deemed it unconstitutional to send male, but not female, inmates out of state, state officials say. However, that decision has renewed a conversation in Montpelier on how to reduce the state’s reliance on out-of-state prisons in general. In a lower court ruling this summer, Judge Helen Toor ordered the Department of Corrections to return Michael Carpenter, a prisoner sent to Kentucky, to Vermont. The state houses about 500 inmates in Kentucky and Arizona at facilities run by the private company Corrections Corporation of America, because Vermont facilities are overcrowded. The judge ruled it violated Carpenter’s constitutional right to equal protection because he was not able to visit his children the same way as female inmates who are not sent out of state. DOC officials, however, told lawmakers last week that on the advice of their attorneys they do not plan to appeal the case because it only applies to Carpenter and a Supreme Court ruling might include a broader mandate, such as an order to return all out-of-state inmates. “The better direction is make a couple of the changes on the parenting piece,” DOC Commissioner Andy Pallito told the Corrections Oversight Committee last week. Carpenter has meanwhile been returned to Vermont and is living at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, according to the state’s online offender locator database. In addition to asking fathers more questions about their children, the state is also trying to re-establish a broken video conferencing system that allows out-of-state prisoners to “visit” with their families, DOC officials said Monday. Sears has asked the DOC for a list of criteria for sending a prisoner out of state. According to court documents from the Carpenter case, a person must be ineligible for work camp, cleared medically and not involved in any prison programming. The practice of sending Vermont prisoners to private prisons out-of-state is controversial. At the Corrections Oversight Committee meeting last week, lawmakers discussed the ruling and how to reduce the state’s dependence on out-of-state prisons. Sen. Dick Sears, chairman of the Senate committee that handles judicial matters, pointed out that the state has already done a lot to decrease its out-of-state population. “I don’t think we have done a good enough job publicizing the progress that we’ve made over the past five or six years,” Sears said. Sears said he would prefer that prisoners be kept in state, but finding the money, location and community support for a new or expanded facility would be hard, he said.

Meanwhile, the activism group Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, is working on a proposal for a bill to introduce next year to bring out-of-state prisoners home over the next three years. If a bill to bring prisoners home was introduced in his committee, Sears said he would review it. Sears’ counterpart in the House of Representatives, who is also on the oversight committee, is opposed to sending prisoners out of state.  “I don’t think we should be sending folks out of state,” said Rep. Bill Lippert, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform is led by Suzi Wizowaty, who last year retired from the Legislature, where she served on Lippert’s committee. Lawmakers from both houses as well as state officials say an alternative justice bill passed last session, now known as Act 195, will also help reduce the prison population. “I think the department is doing a pretty remarkable job. I think the pretrial piece has been the missing link in this system for a long time,” Pallito said. The DOC also recently received a $1 million grant to work on reducing recidivism. Another barrier to reducing the population is that many prisoners are in jail simply because they lack proper housing. There are 241 inmates in Vermont that are legally allowed to be released but because of a variety of complicating circumstances, have nowhere to go.

 

Nov 15, 2014 vtdigger.org

SHIPPING ONLY MALE INMATES OUT-OF-STATE UNCONSTITUTIONAL, JUDGE RULES

Vermont’s practice of sending only male inmates to prisons outside Vermont is unconstitutional, a superior court judge has ruled. In a 21-page decision issued this summer, Washington Superior Court Judge Helen Toor ruled that an inmate was denied equal protection under the constitution because he was sent to prison in another state while his female counterparts were locked up in Vermont. Judge Helen Toor considers arguments in an equal pay lawsuit filed against the state. After a trial held in June, Toor ruled that the Department of Corrections failed to prove that it is constitutional to treat male and female inmates differently. Vermont inmate Michael Carpenter, who was housed in Kentucky, brought the case. In her decision, Toor ordered that Carpenter be returned to Vermont. Carpenter has been in prison for more than three years. He is serving sentences for violation of an abuse prevention order, driving under the influence, violation of probation and attempted escape, according to court documents. Carpenter also has twin boys, Aiden and Brendan, who are nearly 5 years old and a fiancée, Dee Morse, who testified at the trial, documents show. “The court cannot sanction DOC’s policy of sending male inmates far from home, regardless of whether they have close bonds with their young children, while keeping all women nearby,” Toor wrote. Carpenter was first incarcerated in Vermont and played with his children weekly during visits, court documents show. When he was sent to Kentucky, the family could not afford to make visits.

There are no state subsidies for travel and no option for Skype, Facetime or other types of video conferencing from that facility, documents show. The Skype program that is supposed to exist is having “technical issues,” according to court documents. Carpenter’s attorney, Dawn Matthews, argued that because his incarceration in Kentucky in essence prohibits him from any contact with his young children, it violates the federal Equal Protection Clause and the Common Benefits Clause of the Vermont constitution. “The DOC policy of sending only men out of state is, for all practical purposes, equivalent to a regulation barring all contact with the inmates’ minor children,” the judge wrote. DOC does not have a written policy on sending only men out of state, but does so because there are more men in the system, according to court documents. It is DOC’s policy to keep inmates as close to their families as possible; however, it does not ask inmates whether they have minor children, according to court documents. The DOC keeps no statistics on how many inmates are parents, but a recent study found 64 percent of in-state inmates were parents of minor children, according to court documents. The decision cites national data that show that prisoners who are allowed to visit with their children are more likely to get a full-time job upon release and are less likely to commit new crimes or use drugs. The DOC argued that out-of-state placements do not discriminate based on gender. The impact on families when men and women are incarcerated, as well as the need to manage the prison population, justifies the different treatment, DOC also argued. DOC’s attorney, David McLean, argued that there is no constitutionally protected right to visitation. The state argued that by violating the law, inmates lose whatever rights the common benefits clause may provide. Vermont since 1998 has housed about 500 of its approximately 2,000 prisoners in Kentucky and Arizona because state facilities are overcrowded. Private prison contractor Corrections Corporation of America operates those facilities. Many advocates argue that all of Vermont’s prisoners should be held in-state. The criteria for sending a prisoner out of state is that he must be serving a sentence, cleared for physical and mental health, not involved in any programming and not eligible for work camp, according to court documents. The judge acknowledged that DOC sends prisoners out of state because it lacks resources, but said that is not an excuse. “Courts must at all times insist that unconstitutional conditions be remedied, even at significant financial cost,” she wrote. “The court does not suggest that the solution is to necessarily send women out of state, only that the current practice of distinguishing between inmates based on gender is legally indefensible,” she wrote. DOC Commissioner Andy Pallito did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Suzi Wizowaty, executive director of the group Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, said the decision is another reason to end the practice of sending Vermont inmates out of state. “It just confirms for a different reason that sending men out of state is a bad idea,” Wizowaty said. The solution, she said, is to reduce the number of people in prison. Her organization is working on legislation to do just that. Wizowaty said prison overcrowding is not a DOC problem, but rather one for the Legislature to solve. Lawmakers could, for example, make it easier for inmates to find housing so they are not waiting in prison, as is the case for more than 200 prisoners. The state could also change penalties for nonviolent drug crimes so those crimes are not punishable by incarceration, she said.


Oct 21, 2014 sevendaysvt.com

A series of assaults last year inside a Kentucky prison that houses 400 Vermonters stemmed from a culture of drug use that involved prison guards and inmates, officials from the company that runs the prison said today. Representatives from the Corrections Corporation of America made a rare appearance in Vermont, testifying before the Joint Legislative Corrections Oversight Committee. The told the committee  they have made improvements since a series of violent incidents inside Lee Adjustment Center last year alarmed Vermont officials. However, CCA officials faced sharp questions from lawmakers about their staffing levels and security measures. CCA managing director of operations Kevin Myers said that a spate of violent assaults last winter that eventually led to a weeks-long lockdown arose from “culmination of a lot of things coming together at one time.” The prison received two batches of new Vermont inmates in October 2013, Myers said, including, “a lot of people from New York and the Bronx that had been arrested before.”  Those inmates were brought into a prison where a network of buying and selling drugs was already established, Myers said, and only made things worse. “When they got to Lee Adjustment Center, we had a system where people there were dependent on drugs, and those [new] people maximized that opportunity and took advantage of that opportunity," Myers said. Drugs often entered the prison through the mail, Myers said. In response to those troubles, CCA says it replaced Lee Adjustment Center's warden and took other steps that it says have made the prison safer. They added a dozen staffers, so that five more guards could be on duty and monitor individual housing blocks. Previously, Myers said, the prison did not have guards inside individual housing blocks — a guard monitoring control-room video feeds was the only constant presence.  Myers said prison officials are also more vigilant about monitoring inmate phone calls, which have always been recorded, and have curtailed freedom of movement for inmates. Challenges remain. Annual turnover among guards at Lee Adjustment Center is around 25 percent, though some of that is due to "people we terminated because we were finding out they were part of the problem, they were introducing some of the drugs," Myers said. The starting wage for guards there is $8.35 an hour, above Kentucky’s $7.23 minimum wage, CCA officials said under questioning from lawmakers. (Vermont’s minimum wage is $8.73, but is scheduled to rise to $10.50 by 2018.) CCA's testimony, the company's first in Vermont in a decade, comes as state officials are increasingly focused on reducing Vermont's inmate population. The state has 1,600 prison beds but 2,100 inmates, forcing it to spend more than $30 million in the past two years for extra space in CCA's prisons. DOC's most recent two-year contract with CCA expires in July, and DOC is currently soliciting bids for a new contract. Bids are due on Thursday, and it is expected that CCA will apply. Lee Adjustment Center is populated entirely by Vermonters. Florence Correctional Facility, a CCA prison in Arizona, houses 30 Vermonters who have had disciplinary problems at other prisons. Seven Days reported earlier this month that 13 Vermonters in Arizona were placed in solitary confinement for weeks after they smashed equipment and fought with guards who used a "chemical agent" to quell the 30-minute rampage. Some committee members voiced frustration that they had not been notified by CCA or DOC of that incident. DOC Commissioner Andy Pallito apologized. However, none of the lawmakers asked for updates on the situation. In an interview after the hearing, Myers said that CCA has begun moving the inmates placed in solitary confinement and expected them all to return to the general prison population shortly.  Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the assaults and CCA's response suggested the company is unwilling to hire enough guards to guarantee safety. Lippert mentioned a $1 million settlement CCA paid Idaho this year to settle allegations that it understaffed a prison and that its employees falsified staffing records to mask security shortcomings.  “Are we getting adequate staffing? It suggests in retrospect maybe the staffing wasn’t adequate," Lippert said. "It does come down to what you contract for. You get what you contract for, I guess.” In an unusual exchange early in the meeting, Myers said that he believed people who hail from other states and are arrested in Vermont cause more problems behind bars than native Vermonters. "There are a lot of challenging things that come through the state from New York, Massachusetts," Myers said. "People that come from out of state, creating problems for you and your state.” In fact, Myers said, it was obvious upon brief interactions which inmates were and weren't from Vermont . Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) asked Myers how he could differentiate the Vermont natives from the transplants, jokingly wondering if he could tell which lawmakers on the committee were born in Vermont. “As I walk through the facility, a lot of offenders walk up to me and they’re very kind and respectful, that kind of thing," Myers said. "You can tell they’re more of a rural type. Others come out of the Bronx and other types of areas. They’re gangsters. You can tell the ... Vermonters, and those who aren’t.”


Jan 28, 2014 vtdigger.org

The warden of the Kentucky prison where 205 Vermont inmates have been on lockdown since Jan. 15 resigned Saturday, cCommissioner Andy Pallito said Monday. Warden David Frye resigned for “personal as well as health reasons,” according to an email he sent from his iPhone to his bosses at Corrections Corp. of America, the for-profit company that contracts with the state. Pallito said Frye’s decision had nothing to do with the lockdown. “I would say that our relationship with him was always favorable, so I don’t have any reason to believe that it’s necessarily related to this particular lockdown or whatnot,” Pallito said. Frye took over operations at Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, Ky., in October 2012, according to a news release from the time. CCA spokesman Steven Owen confirmed that Frye resigned for personal reasons. In an email, he said that assistant warden Dan Akers, who has been with CCA since 1994, will “lead the facility in the interim until a new warden is named.” Frye’s resignation email said he spent several weeks considering his decision and discussing it with his family. The resignation was effective Monday. “At this point in my life, I think it necessary to do something different after 20+ years working in corrections,” Frye’s resignation email said. Meanwhile, one wing of the prison is still on lockdown, but it has been eased twice to allow inmates to move more freely and have recreation time, Pallito said. This particular lockdown has stretched longer than usual, he said. It is a result of violence between inmates that began with an assault over the summer, DOC officials have said. “This is not just about the lockdown it’s about a rise in the temperature in the facility,” Pallito said. Inmates have hit and punched each other, Pallito said last week. One person slashed another, he said. The violence might be gang- or debt-related, officials have said. Department of Corrections staff will travel to Kentucky to monitor the situation over the next four weeks, Pallito said. Ideally, two or three staffers will travel there, he said, to interview inmates and understand how they are doing. Pallito said he has already received some letters from inmates complaining about the temperature of the food and the lack of observation. “It’s hard for me to ferret out whether or not they’re using this as an opportunity to give us general complaints,” Pallito said. The state’s contract allows Vermont to house up to 700 prisoners out of state. The arrangement saves the state money and cuts down on overcrowding in Vermont jails. There are 460 prisoners in Kentucky and 39 in Florence, Ariz., according to DOC. Only one wing of the Kentucky facility is on lockdown. Pallito has said lockdowns are routine in Vermont and out of state, often used when something is reported missing or when a weapon is rumored to be circulating. Staff from CCA, the prison contractor, traveled to Vermont the week before the lockdown to talk with DOC about the violence, Pallito said Monday. They offered to come back to Vermont this week, he said, but he told them it wasn’t necessary. Meanwhile, CCA has developed a new long-term plan to watch inmates more carefully, Pallito said. He said he is optimistic the company will follow through. “I have a fair amount of faith that they’re taking this seriously and they’re implementing some changes. We’ll know better in three or four months,” Pallito said. Although DOC isn’t allowed to choose the next warden, CCA usually shares information about finalists, he said. “They’ve always been pretty open with us about who they’re bringing in,” Pallito said. CCA’s contract is for $61 million over four years. It is set to expire in June 2015 and the bidding process will begin soon, Pallito said. He stopped short of saying the threat of losing the contract will spur CCA into action.


Jan 24, 2014 vtdigger.org

A longer-than-usual lockdown of Vermont inmates in a Kentucky is prompting state officials to question whether there is adequate staff in that facility, Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said Thursday. Since Jan. 15, 205 Vermont prisoners in a Beattyville, Ky., for-profit facilty have been locked in their dormitory after a series of assaults and fights, a DOC employee told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon. The state has developed a plan with the private company that runs that prison to remedy the situation is calling on the company to carry it out, Pallito said. “We need to make sure they follow through on the plan,” Pallito said. He said the unusual length of the lockdown is allowing officials to gather information about the violence. The lockdown was sparked by a series of incidents that included hitting, punching and one person who slashed another with a short “shank,” or homemade knife. The violence was not sexual, Pallito said. DOC will also examine the number of staff at the Lee Adjustment Center, he said. Vermont facilities have one guard per unit, a DOC staff member told lawmakers Tuesday. In Kentucky, staff cycle between three pods. The lockdown is now a “modified lockdown,” a spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America, which operates the prison, said Thursday. That means inmates are given limited time outside their cells daily in the “day room areas.” CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the lockdown was precautionary and allows CCA and DOC officials to review the reported events and enhance security to avoid future problems. “CCA is firmly committed to providing safe, secure housing and high-quality rehabilitation and re-entry programs to the Vermont inmates,” Owen wrote in an emailed statement. “(The incidents) happen quick, which is always why it’s the hardest to ferret out,” he said. The incidents in Kentucky appear to be gang- or debt-related, Pallito said between two hearings on a DOC budget adjustment request Thursday. Meanwhile, the Vermont Defender General on Thursday said supervision in the Kentucky facility is more relaxed than in Vermont prisons. Matthew Valerio called Lee Adjustment Center a “reasonably stress-free environment to do time in,” largely because there are fewer rules to enforce. “Every so often sometimes the issues are personal, sometimes they rise to ‘potential gang-like stuff’ but every now and then something bubbles up and you have an incident or two,” he said. Investigators and lawyers from the Defender General’s Prisoners’ Rights Office visit the Kentucky prison three or four times a year and plan to do so in early March, Valerio said. He said nothing major has changed in the past decade at the 816-bed Kentucky facility, which right now only houses Vermont inmates. Valerio said his staff told him the recent violence might have been sparked by personal issues between new prisoners coming from Vermont and those who have been in Kentucky for awhile. “People trying to mark their territory, so to speak,” Valerio said. He said the so-called gang affiliations might be more of a label than a reality. In all, there are 460 Vermont prisoners in Kentucky. There are 39 Vermonters at a prison in Arizona. Prisoners sent to Kentucky are often those without special medical needs who simply must serve time, Valerio said. The most frequent complaint his staff hears from inmates at all facilities, local and out-of-state, is that prisoners’ medical needs are not being addressed, Valerio said. The practice of sending prisoners out of state, which started under former Gov. Howard Dean, is controversial. Although it saves the state money, some lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to stop the practice. “I think that we’d all rather have them back in Vermont if we had our druthers, but politically and fiscally we’ve got to figure out how to do that and nobody’s been able to figure that out for a long time,” Valerio said. Pallito said lockdowns happen frequently in Kentucky and especially in Vermont facilities. “We do lockdowns in a Vermont correctional facility monthly, I’d say,” Palito said. The state’s contract with CCA is set to expire in June 2015 and must be put out to bid, according to Richard Byrne, the DOC out-of-state unit supervisor who spoke to the House Corrections and Institutions Committee on Tuesday.


Jan 24, 2014 vtdigger.org

A longer-than-usual lockdown of Vermont inmates in a Kentucky is prompting state officials to question whether there is adequate staff in that facility, Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said Thursday. Since Jan. 15, 205 Vermont prisoners in a Beattyville, Ky., for-profit facilty have been locked in their dormitory after a series of assaults and fights, a DOC employee told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon. The state has developed a plan with the private company that runs that prison to remedy the situation is calling on the company to carry it out, Pallito said. “We need to make sure they follow through on the plan,” Pallito said. He said the unusual length of the lockdown is allowing officials to gather information about the violence. The lockdown was sparked by a series of incidents that included hitting, punching and one person who slashed another with a short “shank,” or homemade knife. The violence was not sexual, Pallito said. DOC will also examine the number of staff at the Lee Adjustment Center, he said. Vermont facilities have one guard per unit, a DOC staff member told lawmakers Tuesday. In Kentucky, staff cycle between three pods. The lockdown is now a “modified lockdown,” a spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America, which operates the prison, said Thursday. That means inmates are given limited time outside their cells daily in the “day room areas.” CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the lockdown was precautionary and allows CCA and DOC officials to review the reported events and enhance security to avoid future problems. “CCA is firmly committed to providing safe, secure housing and high-quality rehabilitation and re-entry programs to the Vermont inmates,” Owen wrote in an emailed statement. “(The incidents) happen quick, which is always why it’s the hardest to ferret out,” he said. The incidents in Kentucky appear to be gang- or debt-related, Pallito said between two hearings on a DOC budget adjustment request Thursday. Meanwhile, the Vermont Defender General on Thursday said supervision in the Kentucky facility is more relaxed than in Vermont prisons. Matthew Valerio called Lee Adjustment Center a “reasonably stress-free environment to do time in,” largely because there are fewer rules to enforce. “Every so often sometimes the issues are personal, sometimes they rise to ‘potential gang-like stuff’ but every now and then something bubbles up and you have an incident or two,” he said. Investigators and lawyers from the Defender General’s Prisoners’ Rights Office visit the Kentucky prison three or four times a year and plan to do so in early March, Valerio said. He said nothing major has changed in the past decade at the 816-bed Kentucky facility, which right now only houses Vermont inmates. Valerio said his staff told him the recent violence might have been sparked by personal issues between new prisoners coming from Vermont and those who have been in Kentucky for awhile. “People trying to mark their territory, so to speak,” Valerio said. He said the so-called gang affiliations might be more of a label than a reality. In all, there are 460 Vermont prisoners in Kentucky. There are 39 Vermonters at a prison in Arizona. Prisoners sent to Kentucky are often those without special medical needs who simply must serve time, Valerio said. The most frequent complaint his staff hears from inmates at all facilities, local and out-of-state, is that prisoners’ medical needs are not being addressed, Valerio said. The practice of sending prisoners out of state, which started under former Gov. Howard Dean, is controversial. Although it saves the state money, some lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to stop the practice. “I think that we’d all rather have them back in Vermont if we had our druthers, but politically and fiscally we’ve got to figure out how to do that and nobody’s been able to figure that out for a long time,” Valerio said. Pallito said lockdowns happen frequently in Kentucky and especially in Vermont facilities. “We do lockdowns in a Vermont correctional facility monthly, I’d say,” Palito said. The state’s contract with CCA is set to expire in June 2015 and must be put out to bid, according to Richard Byrne, the DOC out-of-state unit supervisor who spoke to the House Corrections and Institutions Committee on Tuesday

Jan 22, 2014 vtdigger.org

More than 200 Vermont inmates in a Kentucky prison have been on lockdown since Jan. 15 after a series of assaults and fights broke out, a Department of Corrections official told lawmakers Tuesday afternoon. The 205 Vermont prisoners are in the close-custody wing of Lee Adjustment Center, a Beattyville, Ky., prison that houses 460 Vermont prisoners, Richard Byrne, out-of-state unit supervisor for the Department of Corrections, told the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions. “I’m concerned. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of this and find out who the culprits are and find out, if anything, how they’re operating,” Byrne said. Only Vermonters are housed in the 816-bed prison after Kentucky did not renew its contract with CCA in July. He said the lockdown is to keep inmates safe until they can locate the source of the recent violence. Corrections Corp. of America, a private firm that runs the prison and contracts with Vermont, is handling the situation, Byrne said. He said inmates are cooperating. “Nobody is locking them down for punishment, let me be clear. We really want to find out why this is happening,” Byrne said. The state corrections department since the mid-1990s has contracted with Nashville-based CCA to relieve overcrowding in Vermont facilities. CCA runs prisons, jails, detention centers and other types of state and federal correctional facilities across the country. In addition to the inmates in Beattyville, 39 Vermont inmates are at a facility in Florence, Ariz., Byrne told legislators Tuesday. The state contract with CCA, which expires in 2015, allows it to send up to 660 inmates to Kentucky and 40 to Arizona, he said. Without elaborating on the specific incidents that prompted the call for a lockdown, Byrne said it has been rocky at the Kentucky facility lately. “This is a tough period of time down there because we are seeing some things that we have not seen in the past,” Byrne said. During the committee meeting, chairwoman Rep. Alice Emmons, D/W-Springfield, asked if there is more drug or gang activity in the prison. Byrne said there are gangs but couldn’t say for sure if they were formal or whether the recent violence is gang-related. He said there is always a reason behind assaults or fighting. Staff in Kentucky typically need more direction than those in Arizona but Vermont DOC staff work with them and have for the past 10 years, Byrne said. During his hour of testimony Tuesday afternoon, Byrne made it clear that prisoners in Kentucky are less supervised than inmates in Vermont prisons. Byrne didn’t give a number for how many prison staff are assigned to the west dorm that is on lockdown, but said it is definitely more than two. There are also two roving staff members and a control room operator who monitors cameras, he said. Plans are in place, he said, to “step down” off lockdown status. He said it is important to do so slowly. “We’re really trying to be mindful and thoughtful of how we keep these people safe and, really, how do we get through this with balance?” he said. Lockdown means that inmates are locked inside their housing units, Byrne said. Each inmate is interviewed and each cell is searched “top to bottom,” including inside mattresses, for contraband items, he said. Inmates eat and receive medical treatment inside the unit. They are now being allowed out to shower and exchange linens, Byrne said. Another unit, south dorm, is not locked down, Byrne said. He said the state and CCA are working on a plan to address possible gang activities. “When you really start seeing a rise in this you really want to be somewhat ahead of the curve, and if you’re behind it you want to get really quickly ahead of it,” he said. Andrew MacLean, a lobbyist representing CCA, spoke after Byrne on Tuesday. “We’re working very hard to make sure the state of Vermont is satisfied,” he said. The DOC’s contract with CCA ends in June 2015. The state is in the first year of a two-year extension to a two-year contract, Byrne said. The state paid CCA $12.8 million to house 498 prisoners in fiscal year 2013, according to a FY13 budget document for the Department of Corrections. Vermont pays $65.47 per day per prisoner in Kentucky and $72.14 in Arizona, Byrne said. That is lower than the cost to house prisoners in Vermont, in part because there are fewer staff and they are paid less, Byrne said. In-state facilities have a “direct supervision” model with one officer per unit, he said. In Kentucky, staff moves between three pods. “It’s not one unit, one officer,” he said. Byrne said he talks with prison officials in Kentucky frequently, as he does with in-state prison supervisors. Prisoners are transported by bus to Kentucky. Prisoners headed to Arizona stop in Kentucky along the way. In fiscal year 2013, there were about 504 male inmates from Vermont incarcerated in private correctional facilities. That is a decrease from a high of 589 in fiscal year 2012, according to an FY13 budget presentation from DOC. In November 2004, 16 Vermont prisoners at the Lee Adjustment Center were among 23 prisoners indicted for a riot two months earlier, according to the Associated Press. The prisoners burned an administration building and damaged a housing unit. The practice of sending prisoners out of state is controversial. Rep. Suzi Wizowaty, D-Burlington, clerk of the House Judiciary Committee, sat in on Byrne’s testimony Tuesday. Wizowaty for several years has filed an unsuccessful bill to stop sending prisoners out of state. The public typically only finds out about a lockdown if word gets out from an inmate, Wizowaty said. She said she receives letters at least once a week from prisoners. Some report having seen a fight in a yard with no guard in sight, she said. “There is a very low level of supervision,” she said. CCA is in talks to add 400 West Virginia inmates to the Kentucky prison, Byrne said.

July 28, 2011 Burlington Free Press
It's well-established in law that most government records are public, but what about the records of contractors who do government's business? If a private company is housing state prisoners, how much of that company's records are available to state residents? Those are among the questions that a special panel of lawmakers mulled Wednesday as they met for the first time to try to tackle public-records issues left undone during the legislative session that ended in May. The summer study committee also plans to study exemptions to the state public-records laws -- numbering 239 -- and determine if they are needed. The six-member committee plans to delve more deeply into the exemptions at its next meeting in September, but Wednesday the panel wrestled with what to do about private contractors that essentially are fulfilling the function of government. Lawmakers left the issue out of legislation passed this year after running into complications. Those complications haven't disappeared, as the panel received conflicting advice. Conor Casey, legislative director for the Vermont State Employees Association, said private contractors sometimes do the exact same work as state employees. They should be subject to the same public scrutiny, he said. Casey noted that the state contracts with Corrections Corporation of America to house Vermont inmates at several private, out-of-state prisons. Vermont residents should be able to make inquiries about the services CCA provides, even if the state Corrections Department hasn't asked those same questions, he said. Legislative counsel Michael O'Grady warned the committee that the state might be vulnerable to a lawsuit. "If you do nothing, I think there will be a court case," he said. "I think people will expect or assume they'll be able to get records." O'Grady outlined laws in other states, some of which address the issue, but said it was unclear how some of those are implemented. One question Vermont lawmakers need to consider, he said, is where the records request should go: to the private contractor or the state agency overseeing the contract.

March 16, 2007 Vermont Guardian
Gov. Jim Douglas’ third inaugural celebration raised $47,000 from some of the state’s top contractors, and corporations. The money raised will benefit the Vermont Military Family Emergency Assistance Fund, and the collected several hundred pounds of food for the Vermont Foodbank. The events top two sponsors, who donated $5,000 apiece, were Electronic Data Systems, which handles Medicaid payments for the state, and Pike Industries, Inc., a paving contractor. “Choosing a charity to receive the proceeds of the ball is always a challenge. There are many capable organizations and worthy causes in Vermont,” Douglas said. “Dorothy and I decided the proceeds should again go to military families in Vermont who are struggling to make ends meet. These families are making extraordinary sacrifices on our behalf and this is another way for us to show them that Vermont will always stand by them.” Douglas’ first inaugural ball raised thousands of dollars for alcohol and drug rehabilitation and prevention programs of the United Ways of Vermont and collected non-perishable food for the Vermont Foodbank. The second inaugural celebration, in January of 2005, raised $27,000 for the family assistance fund and, like this year, collected more than 700 pounds of food for the Vermont Foodbank. The Vermont Military Family Emergency Assistance Fund, Inc. non-profit group created solely to provide emergency financial assistance to service members and their families. It is for the benefit of any Vermont service member and their families that live in Vermont as well as service members who live outside the state but belong to a Vermont unit. Sponsors at the $2,500 level were: AT&T; Barr Laboratories; Blue Cross Blue Shield; Casella Waste Systems; CIGNA; Corrections Corporation of America; Goodrich Corporation; Green Mountain Power; and, Kimbell, Sherman, Ellis.

August 25, 2006 AP
Gov. Jim Douglas has nearly three times as big a war chest as challenger Scudder Parker as they head into the fall campaign, campaign finance reports filed Friday show. Douglas' donors included a range of business people -- some who do business with the state -- and longtime Republican stalwarts. They include former GOP U.S. Senate candidate Jack McMullen, who gave $200; and Corrections Corporation of America, owner of a private Kentucky prison where Vermont inmates rioted two years ago. The company gave $2,000.

February 1, 2006 Burlington Free Press
Let's say, for discussion's sake, that Judge Edward Cashman deserves the outrage that greeted his initial sentence of a man who sexually abused a little girl. He's not alone. How about bad journalism, and we won't even get into the awful nationwide cable coverage, less because catching Bill O'Reilly in error is insufficiently challenging for a grownup than because most cable news doesn't do journalism; it does anger enhancement. We'll stick to local ineptitude. This hullabaloo began Jan. 4 when Brian Joyce of WCAX-TV (Channel 3) began his report by saying, "a Vermont judge handed out a 60-day jail sentence to a man who raped a little girl ... The judge said he no longer believes in punishment ... ." But it was a 60-day-to- 10-years-with-lifetime-supervision sentence. And Cashman never said he "no longer believes in punishment." He said punishment "is not enough." That's not an inconsequential difference. Then there are all those legislators insisting on 25-year minimum sentences for child sex abusers while ignoring the $40,000 a year it costs to keep someone in prison, possibly requiring a tax increase they would be loath to support. They deserve some outrage. So do reporters who don't challenge them. And why has no one examined the possibility that vested interests are exploiting this uproar? Whether putting more people in prison for longer terms is good for society is debatable. That it is good for Corrections Corporation of America is not. CCA is earning some $9 million from the state this year to house 450 of our convicts in its private pokeys in Kentucky and Tennessee. The more people we sentence for longer terms, the better for CCA, which employs eight registered lobbyists in Montpelier. If those lobbyists are not exploiting this story to drum up more business for their client, they aren't doing their job. If reporters are not inquiring into the connection, they're not doing theirs. According to public documents, this Tennessee-based company contributes to Vermont candidates for Legislature and governor. Its motives probably transcend civic virtue. The company gives a bit to Democrats, but more to Republicans, including Douglas. Not according to public document -- though shouldn't it be? And isn't this something about which to get outraged? CCA also coughed up money for the Douglas inauguration bashes in 2003 and 2005.

October 19, 2005 Rutland Herald
The Indiana resident starts work Nov. 7 as the Springfield prison's new superintendent. Ashburn started working at the sheriff's office in his Maryland hometown while still in high school. He became department sheriff and helped to open a county jail and a state prison. He later worked as an instructor at the Maryland Police and Corrections Training Academy. Robert Kupec, facilities executive for the Vermont Department of Corrections, said he was particularly impressed with Ashburn's experience setting standards and accreditation with the American Correctional Association. Ashburn also worked for Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison management company, for seven years. He was CCA's warden at Marion County Jail, a 1,000-bed prison in Indianapolis, Ind., two years ago and has served as senior director of customer relations and business development at CCA's corporate office. Ashburn's connection with the private company raised flags for Kurt Staudter, chairman of the town's Community Liaison Committee. "I don't have any respect for CCA as a company," he said. CCA came under criticism after a riot last September at its 800-inmate Lee Adjustment Center in Kentucky. Half of those inmates were Vermont prisoners, some of whom were involved in the riot. The riot incident, which occurred after Ashburn worked for CCA, put a spotlight on Vermont's policy of sending large numbers of prisoners out of state. The Corrections Department sent a staffer to the Lee Adjustment Center to monitor the treatment of Vermont inmates there. CCA agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for failing to adequately organize, equip, train the staffers whose job was to respond to the riot. When the Springfield prison was built two years ago, Howard Dean promised the committee that as long as he was governor, the state's prison system would not be privatized. Staudter said privatization has become a constant concern.

January 14, 2005 Reformer
Vermont Gov. James Douglas held his inaugural ball last Saturday at Norwich University's Plumley Armory. Corporations also pitched in to cover the cost of the event, such as Anheuser-Busch, Casella Waste Systems, Stowe Mountain Resort, Central Vermont Public Service, Green Mountain Power, Corrections Corporation of America, National Life of Vermont and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont. A certain amount of influence-buying is to be expected at a political event.

West Tennessee Detention Facility
Mason, Tennessee
CCA
June 19, 2010 The Rutland Herald
Vermont prisoners being held at a private prison in Tennessee had ongoing complaints about the facility before a lockdown in May when the inmates had to be subdued with chemical grenades, officials said. About 35 Vermont inmates were put on lockdown on May 12 after they refused to return to their cells and started destroying sinks and toilets in their housing unit at the West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason, about 35 miles northeast of Memphis. Prison officials said no one was injured. Vermont contracts with Nashville-based prison operator Corrections Corporation of America to house inmates in Kentucky, Tennessee and Arizona to alleviate overcrowding. Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio, who oversees the prisoners’ rights office, said his office regularly gets complaints about the lack of education, work or recreation programs and concerns about racial tensions between inmates at the Tennessee prison. The Vermont inmates, who are mostly white and some who are serving time for misdemeanor crimes, are housed in the facility along with federal prisoners in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service. “The Vermont inmates perceive they are being threatened and denied equal treatment and privileges,” Valerio said. Valerio said the prisoners have also said that the prison staff aren’t addressing their problems. “The Tennessee staff apparently believe the Vermont inmates are whiny and needy,” he said. “The Vermont inmates believe the Tennessee staff dislike and ignore them.” Steven Owen, a CCA spokesman, said the Vermont inmates are provided vocational, educational and recreational programs and activities and the facility is accredited by the American Correctional Association. The facility has housed Vermont inmates since 2005. In 2008, they were transferred to other CCA facilities and then returned to Tennessee in March 2009, Owen said. Ray Flum, supplemental housing contract manager for Vermont Department of Corrections, said the state moved the inmates out of that facility because they were looking for a place where their inmates could get more opportunities for work and education. Flum said he was not aware of concerns about racial issues between inmates. “The facility is a very tight facility,” he said. “It’s not meant for long-term sentence offenders... They move in and out so there’s not much there for long term offenders.” Flum said shortly after the inmates returned to the Tennessee prison in 2009, there was a similar incident when they refused to get into their cells and made some demands. Flum said there was no use of force by guards and the warden talked to them and resolved the problem. “To my knowledge there is no connection between the two incidents,” he said. However, Valerio said the repeated incidents of inmates refusing to follow orders to get in their cells indicates there’s been little done to resolve the underlying problems. “I think that they have perfunctory meetings that don’t result in any significant change,” he said of CCA’s response.

May 30, 2010 Times Argus
The Department of Corrections will have more staff on site to address the grievances of out-of-state inmates after an uprising of Vermont inmates at a Tennessee prison earlier this month. The 34 male inmates of "L Block" at West Tennessee Detention Facility in Macon, Tenn., remain on "modified lockdown" after they refused to return to their cells and vandalized their housing unit May 12, said prison spokeswoman Melissa Nuce. The lockdown segregates inmates from the general prison population, which primarily is made up of federal felons, but the inmates now are allowed to use the telephone, Nuce said. "We will remain on lockdown for as long as it takes to ensure the safety of the inmates and the staff," Nuce said. She declined to speculate on how long that would take. Department of Corrections officials had staff in Tennessee two days after the incident, in which corrections officers deployed nonlethal chemical grenades similar to tear gas to gain control of the housing unit and force inmates to return to their cells for nightly lockdown. No one was injured. Preliminary reports indicate the incident was driven by recent changes to the inmates' privileges. "What they have reported is that inmates were upset about changes in rules regulating electronics use, such as video games," said corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito. While Pallito said reports indicate the electronics policy appears to be the primary motivation for the uprising, inmates also complained that prison staff refused to address grievances. These complaints came as no surprise to Defender General Matthew Valerio, who oversees Vermont's Prisoners' Rights Office, which hears formal grievances filed by inmates. While Valerio said he hadn't heard specific complaints about "merely some disobedience," his office has received many complaints about the Tennessee prison. "The Tennessee location is far from ideal," Valerio said. "The complaints we hear (are) that there is no programming, no counseling, no industry and no education. Also, the population is about 80 percent black, and the inmates coming from Vermont obviously are not, for the most part, so it is an intimidating and sometimes violent place for Vermonters." The inmates involved in the incident are among 101 Vermonters in the Tennessee prison, and among the roughly 600 Vermont inmates doing time outside the state. While most of them are housed in the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, Ky., some do not qualify for that facility and end up in Tennessee. Kentucky law prohibits offenders with misdemeanor convictions to do time with felons. Tennessee, however, has no such provision, which leaves Vermonters with misdemeanor convictions doing time with federal felons. Sending the offenders out of state is seen as a cost-saving move, meaning it's cheaper than building a prison in Vermont. But Valerio said the policy might end up costing the state more in the long run. "I can understand the need to save money, but these offenders are going to come back to Vermont and they're going to bring these problems back with them," he said. Pallito said his office would like to find another locale to house the offenders other than Tennessee, but said the private prison business — of which the Tennessee facility is a part — is competitive. "We're putting out bids looking for beds for 100 inmates, but we're competing with larger states like California who are looking for space for thousands of offenders. … Vermont just isn't that attractive a customer for the prison business," he said. In the meantime, the Department of Corrections will have people on site at both the Tennessee and Kentucky facilities to address inmate grievances more directly. Pallito said the incident is in the hands of Tennessee authorities, who are likely to convene a grand jury in July, he said, adding that his office is pushing for prosecution.

May 14, 2010 Times Argus
Vermont inmates remain in lockdown after a riot in a privately run prison in Tennessee on Wednesday night. Around 10:35 p.m., 35 male inmates housed in West Tennessee Detention Facility in Macon, Tenn., refused to return to their cells, according to Corrections Corp. of America, which operates the facility 40 miles east of Memphis. The inmates ignored orders to return to their cells for the night and began damaging property inside the housing unit, said prison public information officer Melissa Nuce, who described the damage as minimal. Corrections officers deployed nonlethal chemical grenades — similar to tear gas — in the housing unit and subdued the inmates. The incident resulted in no injuries to either inmates or prison staff. After undergoing chemical decontamination, the inmates were returned to their cells, where they remain on lockdown, Nuce said. An investigation into the cause of the riot will include staff in Tennessee and members of the Vermont Department of Corrections, said DOC Deputy Commissioner Lisa Menard. "They are conducting an investigation there and we will send some of our staff down there in the immediate future," Menard said. Nuce and Menard said it was too early in the investigation to discuss why the riot happened. Menard also said it was too early to determine which inmates from Vermont were involved in the riot. The prison houses 105 inmates from Vermont in three separate housing units, which are segregated from the general population of the 600-bed facility. Nuce said CCA is in the middle of its second contract with Vermont to house the state's overflowing prison population. Menard said the state has about 2,200 inmates, but room for only about 1,600. Many inmates are sent to the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, Ky., but for a variety of reasons, some inmates do not qualify for prison in Kentucky and must go to Tennessee. Menard said the Kentucky prison will not take any inmate classified as needing maximum security. Kentucky also prohibits inmates convicted of a misdemeanor to cohabitate with those convicted of a felony. Also, some inmates who were co-defendants or who testified against each other must be housed separately, resulting in the need for a second out-of-state prison. Nuce said it was too early to know how long the lockdown would last.

May 13, 2010 AP
Correctional officials say 35 inmates from Vermont being held in a West Tennessee prison are on lockdown after refusing to get into their cells and damaging property. Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason, about 35 miles northeast of Memphis, said in a news release that around 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday the male inmates refused to return to their cells for the night and began damaging property inside their housing unit. Melissa Nuce, a spokeswoman for the facility, said guards used a non-lethal, approved chemical grenade to subdue the inmates. The inmates were then returned to their cells. She said no staff or inmates were injured in the incident. Nuce said Thursday that the cause of the incident is still under investigation, but she was not aware of any previous problems with the Vermont inmates. CCA has a contract with the Vermont Department of Correction and she said that department would also be included in an internal investigation into the incident. For more than a decade Vermont has sent a number of its inmates to out-of-state prisons to ease prison crowding in the state's prisons. The Vermont Department of Corrections said Thursday there were currently 666 inmates serving out of state, including 105 in Tennessee. The Vermont inmates remain on lockdown and are not allowed to use telephones, she said. The facility has about 600 beds, according to the CCA website.