Vermont has extended its contract for a year to house more than 200 inmates at a private Mississippi prison with new stipulations after an outbreak of the coronavirus infected a majority of the Vermont inmates, interim Corrections Commission Jim Baker said Thursday.
The Corrections Department also hopes to put a plan in place to end the practice of shipping inmates to Mississippi, which it does because of a lack of capacity in Vermont prisons, he said.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Baker said. “There’s no guarantees but we’re going to be working on that to reduce that population further with the goal of having no out-of-state inmates.” He said he hoped that could be accomplished within the next year and a half to two years.
None of the 211 inmates housed at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility operated by CoreCivic currently have COVID-19, he said.
The contract and addendum with CoreCivic went into effect Wednesday. It clarifies that Vermont inmates must be kept separate from the rest of the inmate population and adds Vermont’s COVID-19 protocol. The Vermont Corrections Department also now has access to camera systems in the Mississippi prison so that it can view remotely what is happening there, he said.
Under the contract, the state has access to 350 beds which Baker said is in case of an emergency where the state needs beds available such as when a heating system failed at a state facility one recent winter.
“I want to be very clear. We do not intend to have 350 inmates in Mississippi nor do we pay for all 350 beds,” he said.
Since January, the number of Vermont inmates in Mississippi has dropped from 268 to 211 currently, he said. The state is challenged in bringing back more inmates now because of the COVID-19 protocols in Vermont where it needs beds for quarantining and medical isolation, Baker said.
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