Vermont inmates complain about new Michigan prison
Montpelier, Vt. — Less than a month after Vermont’s out-of-state inmates were moved from a private prison in Kentucky to one in Michigan, prisoner complaints range from limited TV programming to unattended medical concerns.
The complaints, detailed in a letter from inmate Shaun Bryer to Gordon Bock, head of the prison advocacy group Vermont CURE, also include “no premium movie channel,” smaller cells, no windows, less recreational time and no privacy in the showers.
Bryer, a former school teacher, said he was responding to a request from Bock for comments and concerns from inmates. “Believe me, we have a lot of them,” he wrote.
GEO Group Inc., which operates the prison, defended its operation.
Spokesman Pablo Paez said in an email to The Associated Press that the company’s North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan, adheres to standards set by the American Correctional Association and to strict requirements in its contract with the Vermont Department of Corrections.
The 280 Vermont inmates were moved at the end of June.
Vermont officials said the move would save money and bring inmates somewhat closer to home. The state also ships some of its longer-term inmates to out-of-state prisons to ease overcrowding in in-state prisons.
Bock said other inmates relied on Bryer to write about their concerns. A former teacher in Morristown and Select Board chairman in Morrisville, Bryer pleaded guilty in 2011 to 14 counts of sexually molesting young boys. He was given 12 years to serve in prison.
With the range of complaints, comes concern among advocates that the frivolous nature of some of them might detract from the more serious ones. Bock said it hurts the inmates’ cause when the complaints “go beyond the basic rights and needs to which they are legally and morally entitled and start talking about how they don’t have a wide choice of TV channels and don’t have instant easy access to an ice machine.”
Suzi Wizowaty, a former state lawmaker who heads Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, said she hopes inmates’ concerns would be taken seriously. Her group is working on system changes designed to reduce prison populations.
“We need to reduce the numbers and bring the guys back to Vermont,” she said.
Bryer’s mother, Cynthia Bryer, said the Vermont inmates were comparing the Michigan prison to Kentucky, where they had cable TV and could get more channels.
“They’re actually saying they miss Kentucky and I never thought I’d hear them say that,” she said in an interview.
The complaints outlined by Bryer included:
— A sick-call process that wasn’t set up when inmates arrived in Michigan at the beginning of July. “Some who submitted sick-call slips still hadn’t been seen a week later.”
— No privacy in the showers. Bryer wrote the prison in Kentucky had installed curtains to comply with federal rules under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
— “There are no windows anywhere.”
— “Currently, we’re only given one hour of outside recreation per day.”
Gary Dillon, facilities operations manager with the Vermont Department of Corrections, said the department has had staff in Michigan since early July, trying to address concerns raised by the move.
“When going from one facility to another, even in-state, there are differences in processes,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”