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Report paints grim picture on toxic environment in Vermont prison

Report paints grim picture on toxic environment in Vermont prison

WATERBURY, Vt. (WCAX). The Vermont Department of Corrections published a report on Thursday that shows a grim picture of a toxic and negative environment in at least one Vermont prison.

These results confirmed much of what we knew anecdotally: The overwhelming majority of corrections staff feel undervalued, overworked and disrespected. Meanwhile, inmates feel deprived, disenfranchised, and mistreated.

The study also reveals that prison culture is contributing to mental distress and illness in staff and incarcerated people.

Vermont is one five-year-old state that is participating in a project to examine the prison climate in America. This project aims to improve conditions for both corrections staff as well as inmates.

The pilot is being run by Vermont out of the Southern State Correctional Facility, Springfield.

Two surveys were distributed to staff and inmates last June as part of the initial phase of the initiative.

More than 70% of both the male and female populations completed their questionnaires. These answers were compiled into a 16-page document.

Nicholas Deml, Corrections Commissioner, acknowledges that Vermont’s prisons have serious problems. This is the first time theyve been documented using independent, third-party research.

These results are very disturbing. They should be given immediate attention on many fronts. Deml said that we did a great job of that with our partners.

While the study only identifies trends at Southern State Prison, Deml states that the challenges identified there are also felt at Vermont’s five other facilities.

The study reveals a clear theme: significant distrust in the system, and a culture that silences.

Corrections staff don’t feel supported or heard by the Department of Corrections. They cite poor communication and lack of transparency as reasons. The vast majority of respondents said that they would leave their job if they could, while 10% stated that they had seriously considered suicide during the past year.

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Inmates also claim that they don’t feel ready to be released. They cite a lack in job training, music and arts programs, as well as a lack of education.

One question asked if prison can teach people how to do better at crimes. 70% of inmates responded yes.

The commissioner promises that this study will lead to real, transformative changes in all six facilities, as we now have solid evidence that the current system is failing.

Click here for the complete report

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