Vt. Dept. of Corrections to Assess Prison Lockdown

Montpelier — Officials from the state Department of Corrections plan to visit a Kentucky facility where more than 200 Vermont inmates have been under lockdown for more than a week because of violence.

A series of potentially gang-related assaults caused the lockdown beginning Jan. 15 at the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, Vermont authorities said.

The Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the facility, said inmates were confined to their cells until Wednesday and allowed out only with staff escort. The prison is now on modified lockdown, with prisoners allowed to access day rooms for at least two but no more than four hours a day.

No one was seriously injured or hospitalized because of the violence, said Matthew Valerio, Vermont defender general. Officials hope to visit the facility as soon as next week to follow up on the lockdown, he said.

Steven Owens, a CCA spokesman, described the lockdown as “precautionary” in an email.

“CCA is firmly committed to providing safe, secure housing and high-quality rehabilitation and re-entry programs to the Vermont inmates housed at LAC, where we’ve been a proven, cost-effective solution for our government partner for the past 10 years,” Owens said.

But Chittenden County Rep. Suzi Wizowaty, who founded Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, says there have been problems at the facility before and the recent spate of assaults is “more of the same.”

“The Corrections Corporation of America has a very long history of understaffing and undertraining the staff that they do have,” Wizowaty said.

In 2004, Vermont prisoners were involved in a riot at a corrections corporation facility in Kentucky. The prison warden was later removed, and Kentucky recommended a $10,000 fine against the corrections corporation for not properly training and equipping prison staff to respond to such incidents.

In response to the latest lockdown, Owens said the facility is “appropriately staffed” and “meets or exceeds industry standards for training.”

Only Vermont prisoners, totaling 461 to date, are housed at the 845-bed Lee Adjustment Center, said Richard Byrne, the out-of-state casework supervisor with the state Department of Corrections. Thirty-nine other Vermont prisoners are housed in a higher security prison in Arizona, according to Byrne.

“They really should be in Vermont facilities, if you can make it happen, but we can’t make it happen,” Valerio said. Space issues, money woes and difficulties constructing in-state prisons are among the driving forces behind moving inmates of out of state, he said.

“You’ve got to work with reality,” Valerio said.

Most prison lockdowns last about three days, Valerio said. The lockdown in Kentucky has lasted more than a week.

Wizowaty has introduced legislation proposing a restriction on the number of prisoners leaving Vermont.

She said it could serve as a starting point for the conversation about reducing prison populations in Vermont.

Vermont’s current contract with the corrections corporation will expire in 2015.