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Panel Discussion To Focus On Conditions At Vermont’s Only Women’s Prison

Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility sign
Vermont Department of Corrections

The Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility was built in the 1970s as a coed facility. In 2011, the Department of Corrections made it Vermont’s only women’s prison. Advocacy organizations are holding a panel discussion tonight on a number of issues surrounding the South Burlington prison.
In 2012 an outside report on structural deficiencies concluded the prison should be replaced.   But the facility has seen more than structural problems. Just this month, guard was charged with sexual assault and soliciting prostitution.  Corrections officials have been under fire for refusing to release inmate records requested by VTDigger regarding complaints over living conditions and inmate access to lawyers.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont and Women’s March Vermont are co-sponsoring a panel discussion about conditions at Chittenden Regional this evening.  Women’s March organizer Kristen Vrancken says there is a lack of transparency and a lengthy history of poor conditions at the facility.  “I have been in the facility through Vermont Works for Women, a program that provides services to incarcerated women. It’s a not-for-profit. It it felt like an old hospital. Very cold.  It it it reminded me of frankly “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” the movie. It felt old. It felt uncared for, just really inhuman in a way.”

Among the panelists is Kim Jordan, a parallel justice specialist who will speak as a former advocate for incarcerated domestic and sexual violence survivors housed at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.  She worked there as an outside contractor for three years and found overcrowded cells housing women convicted of mostly non-violent crimes.  She also found them living in what she characterizes as deplorable conditions.  “The maintenance folks were great in trying to keep up with all the things that kept breaking down. There was a time when the water stopped working and the folks housed there were instructed just not to drink any water and not to use the toilet. I think coupled with the sexual violence that has been perpetrated by certain correctional officers upon the people housed at the facility coupled with some other things coming to light I think is one of the reasons that this panel has been called to speak out. But these are problems that are not new.”  

ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Duff Lyall says the organization has heard numerous complaints about conditions at the prison.  “The women in this facility we’re concerned as being denied basic services too frequently and that there needs to be more transparency and for public scrutiny of this facility. The ACLU’s position of this facility really should be replaced and the majority of the women there should be diverted to alternatives other than incarceration given the very high incidents of abuse and other issues. They’re more appropriate to treatment and rehabilitation than incarceration.”

Calls to the Vermont Department of Corrections were not returned in time for broadcast.

The panel discussion on conditions at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility begins at 6:30 at the Outright Youth Center In Burlington’s Multigenerational Center on North Winooski Avenue.  A non-violent protest is planned in front of the prison on Sunday.