We are all reeling from the news that 147 Vermonters housed at a Mississippi for-profit prison have tested positive for coronavirus. This should never have happened. We should not accept that these Vermonters were not protected against a potentially fatal virus using the same protocols as Vermont based inmates. We must also grapple with the fact that Vermont made a decision to ship these Vermonters away from their families and communities in the first place.
This catastrophe highlights the myriad issues with our use of CoreCivic, a for-profit prison operator. While I cannot fathom why the Republican party continues to foster a relationship with CoreCivic, it is clear that the state of Vermont should not be engaging in imprisonment for profit.
To shift the blame to a reluctance to build additional prisons in Vermont is irresponsible. There are many options beyond prison for nonviolent offenses, and I urge Vermonters to familiarize themselves with ACLU Vermont’s Smart Justice campaign. Vermont needs to recommit to reducing our prison population through restorative justice and treatment options, as well as ensuring appropriate housing so people who are eligible for release can be released. Building more prisons versus shipping prisoners off to CoreCivic is a false dichotomy, one that ignores other options that support those convicted of crimes being able to receive rehabilitation and support needed to rejoin our society in productive ways.
I urge everyone to read ACLU Vermont’s statement and to continue to support their efforts to develop a criminal justice system built on fairness, human dignity, and concern for the welfare of Vermonters.