Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday that Vermont officials are exploring alternatives to its current prison deal with the state of Pennsylvania, which houses more than 200 Vermont inmates.
Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille didn’t specify exact issues with the current arrangement, but he said Vermont officials aren’t happy with how it’s working. Officials plan to solicit proposals for a new deal.
“I think that issuing [a request for proposals] is an indication that we’re looking for something different than what we have,” Gobeille said. “We’re in the process of doing that. It has not been issued yet.”
Due to a shortage of available space in Vermont’s prison system, the state sends more than 200 inmates to out-of-state facilities. In June 2017, those Vermont inmates were transferred from a private prison in Michigan to a Pennsylvania state prison in Camp Hill.
Gobeille said the legal agreement with Pennsylvania is an interstate compact, not a traditional contract like the state had with previous prisons. That compact limits Vermont’s ability to set the terms of how its inmates are treated.
“So the folks from Vermont are treated like they’re from Pennsylvania” under the deal, Gobeille said. “We want to have some different things that are sort of Vermont desires that we would want to put in a contract, and we won’t be satisfied if we can’t have that.”
Three Vermont inmates have died during or after their stays at Camp Hill, though Gobeille said those deaths aren’t specifically motivating the potential change. Vermont Defender General Matt Valerio has also said that Pennsylvania officials are limiting access to Vermont inmates. The inmates themselves have reported threats of violence from guards and threats of retribution if they report any mistreatment.
Under the state’s existing three-year agreement with Pennsylvania, Gobeille said Vermont can remove its inmates from the state’s prisons with six months notice. The new request for proposals won't rule out Pennsylvania as the future home of Vermont inmates, but Gobeille said the details of the agreement have to change.
“We want a better contract,” Gobeille said, “so it could be with them or it could be with another entity.”