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Vermont inmates return from Mississippi prison with COVID-19

VtDigger
Published: 7/30/2020 10:01:01 PM
Modified: 7/30/2020 10:00:59 PM

Six inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning to Vermont this week from a privately-run Mississippi prison, according to the state Department of Corrections.

A seventh Vermont inmate still in that Mississippi prison also has tested positive for the coronavirus this week. He had been in the same housing unit as three of the inmates who have returned to the state.

The six inmates came arrived at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland from the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Miss., on Tuesday.

Following the positive tests, there was mass testing of all the roughly 220 prisoners from Vermont held in at Tallahatchie, according to Al Cormier, the corrections department facilities executive. Vermont is currently awaiting the results.

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio said Thursday that while the in-state facilities seem to have a “pretty good handle” on preventing the spread of COVID-19, he’s not sure that’s the case at the Mississippi prison.

“I get the sense they are not taking it as seriously as we are taking it here,” said Valerio, whose department includes the state’s Prisoners’ Rights Office.

“We’ve had reports from inmates that we can contact over the phone that indicated sort of a laissez-faire approach to wearing masks,” Valerio added “When we call them on it, they assure us they are doing the right thing.”

According to the Mississippi Department of Health, a total of 14 inmates at the Mississippi prison in Tutwiler have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

However, according to Cormier, while Vermont has done mass testing of all the inmates at the six in-state prisons, Mississippi only tests those inmates who are showing symptoms of the virus.

Prior to this week, a total of 48 inmates in Vermont facilities have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic hit earlier this year. Of that total, 45 prisoners tested positive in late March and early April during an outbreak at the Northwest Regional Correctional Facility in St. Albans.

The group of six prisoners returning from Mississippi were placed in quarantine and tested Tuesday for COVID-19 upon arrival at the Rutland facility, standard protocol for all new intakes, Cormier said. The result came back Wednesday night.

“One inmate had a temperature the other five showed no symptoms,” he said, “That individual who had the temperature, that has subsided. So at this point, none of the inmates are symptomatic.”

The six inmates at Marble Valley are now in isolation at the jail and contact tracing is taking place.

Cormier said he is not aware of the six inmates ever being tested while in Mississippi. Results for the inmate still in Mississippi who tested positive came back Wednesday, according to Comier.

“What we hope is that the Vermont model of mitigation works in this situation,” James Baker, Vermont’s interim corrections commissioner, said Thursday in a prepared statement. “Fortunately we were already prepared for it.”

James Lyall, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Thursday that he was disappointed by the positive test results, but not surprised.

“This is both disgraceful and utterly predictable,” he said. “We’ve been calling on the Department of Corrections and the Scott administration to test Vermonters incarcerated out of state in Mississippi for months, and they refused to.”

He added, “Even now DOC has no idea how many incarcerated Vermonters in Mississippi may have COVID-19 because they haven’t bothered to check up to this point. That’s unacceptable.”

The inmates who were transferred back to Vermont were medically screened prior to leaving the Mississippi and showed no sign of the virus, according to Ryan Gustin, public affairs manager for CoreCivic, the prison’s operator.

“Once we learned of these positive cases,” he added, “we placed the two housing pods that these inmates were transferred from on a medical isolation/quarantine status.”

CoreCivic is one of the largest private prison operators in the country. The state contracted with the company nearly two years ago, and is negotiating a one-year extension.

The six inmates who arrived in Vermont on Tuesday from Mississippi traveled in a bus, and they were the only passengers in that vehicle, Cormier said.

In addition, he said, the inmates only came in contact with the transport team and didn’t leave the bus during the trip, as the vehicle had a bathroom inside.

and meals were provided.

Cormier added that Vermont corrections has provided masks for all of the state’s inmates held at the Mississippi facility.




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