George Seeks Release of Women Incarcerated in Troubled Prison | Off Message

George Seeks Release of Women Incarcerated in Troubled Prison


  • FILE: Sasha Goldstein
  • Sarah George
Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George on Wednesday filed motions in Vermont Superior Court to reduce the sentences of two inmates incarcerated at the state's troubled women's prison.

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Earlier this week, George reached change-of-plea agreements with another two female inmates, making them immediately eligible for release from the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. She said she is continuing to work on cases involving five more women her office has sent to the South Burlington prison.

George said that a Seven Days investigation into alleged abuses at Chittenden Regional had prompted her to review the sentences of the roughly 22 women currently incarcerated at the prison whose cases originated in Chittenden County.

"Your story has been an eye-opener for a lot of us to really figure out whether we have people in this jail that don't need to be," she said. "So it's my way of trying to do my part to make this situation safer for some of these women — and make the community safer."Among the women who reached change-of-plea agreements with George's office was Penny Powers, a key figure in Seven Days' investigation. Powers told prison officials in October that a longtime officer at Chittenden Regional, Daniel Zorzi, had taken her and another woman to a Colchester cabin in July for a night of drug use and sex. Both women were out of prison at the time but still under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. Zorzi, who has declined to comment to Seven Days, is under investigation by the Vermont State Police.

Powers returned to prison in September after pleading not guilty to a burglary charge. In the deal reached Tuesday, she pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of unlawful trespass and was sentenced to three to four days in prison, with credit for the time she's already served. That made her immediately eligible for release, though corrections officials could keep her in prison if she does not have suitable housing.

In two cases, George filed motions with a public defender seeking to reduce the sentences of incarcerated women to the amount of time they have already served. A judge would need to agree to the requests. In one of those motions, George and public defender Sara Puls cited Seven Days' reporting, writing that the inmate in question "is serving a sentence for a non-violent crime, she suffers from substance use disorder, is not being adequately treated, and is being incarcerated in a facility that has been revealed to be dangerous and harmful to inmates."

George said she would continue to review the cases of female inmates in her jurisdiction and would likely take additional action, but she said she was unlikely to seek the release of those convicted of homicide. "There are some people who pose too great a public safety risk," she said. 

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