A giant leap backwards

The prison industry in Pennsylvania stands ready to receive a nice little boost at the expense of Vermont taxpayers, what with a new backwards out-of-state prison contact having been signed that guarantees a jail there will have at least 250 of our prisoners.

If wasn't enough, there's also a brand new, backwards-thinking US Attorney General whose policies should keep American prisons filled to the brim for the foreseeable future.

VTDigger reports that currently there are 270 Vermont prisoners being held in a Michigan prison run by GEO Group. A new agreement with Pennsylvania will see those prisoners moved to two facilities in that state sometime before mid-June.

Inmates, their families, and prisoner advocates have some concerns, among them prisoner safety, their ability to lodge complaints, and questions surrounding their personal property.

Those are concerns that get raised anytime there's a move, Vermont Defender General Matt Valerio told Digger. What bothers him is a feature of the new contract that guarantees Vermont will pay Pennsylvania for at least 250 beds.

Our Department of Corrections says prisoners won't be moved to Pennsylvania just to meet a quota, but Valerio doesn't see them being sent back, either.

"The likelihood that we're going to be bringing anybody home during the term of this contract I think is essentially zero," he tells Digger.

Where to house our prisoners is an issue that Vermont has wrangled with for some time now. We have people we want to keep in jail, but we don't want to pay a lot of money to do so. As a cost-saving measure, we've shipped some prisoners off to places like Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, and Texas.

We save a lot of money by doing this. In 2010, we reported that it would cost $54,000 per year to house a single inmate in Vermont. Compared to the $22,000 it costs to send them out of state, it makes financial sense.

In that same article, the Banner spoke to a local man who'd served time in one of these out-of-state these prisons. He returned to Bennington having fully embraced the ideology of white supremacy. He was unavailable for follow-up questions, having been arrested for stabbing his neighbor in the eye with a broken mop or broom handle.

Far from the protection of their home state, Vermont prisoners are also isolated from their families. That included their spouses and children.

Vermont may not be able to ignore the cost savings from out-of-state prison contracts, but it should take care to avoid agreements that encourage keeping our responsibilities at arm's length.

Some in Pennsylvania are likewise concerned about over-crowding issues. They should be, given US Attorney General Jeff Sessions' ancient, moldy thoughts towards crime and punishment.

Seven Days reports that one of Session's first moves was to get rid of an Obama Administration directive discouraging use of private prisons. It's not justice if someone isn't getting paid, after all. More recently, Sessions told federal prosecutors to try for the lengthiest sentences possible for drug offenders. Private prison companies need warm bodies, you know.

It looks like, on the federal level at least, we're back to fighting the good old "War on Drugs," or as we're now seeing it, the "War for Prison Company Shareholder Profits."


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