Newport prison virus outbreak was “predictable and preventable,” ACLU says

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The ACLU of Vermont said Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak at Northern State Correctional Facility, where at least 100 inmates and eight staff members have tested positive, was “predictable and preventable.”

“For too long, the governor has ignored the fact that incarcerated Vermonters are at heightened risk of harm,” the group said in a statement. “That approach is dangerous and inhumane.”

The outbreak at the Newport prison is the largest at a Vermont correctional facility since the start of the pandemic. On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott defended the state’s vaccination age-band, where some inmates in Vermont have been vaccinated ahead of correctional officers and other prison staff. \

“And that included the offender population,” Gov. Scott said. “If they were 75 and over, 70 and over, now 65 and over, they were included as were the staff. However staff isn’t typically over 65. So it’s going to take a while until the entire population is vaccinated, but again, just like the rest of us, everyone is just going to have to wait their turn.”

The governor did note CO’s will be included in the public safety sector which will happen this month. Still, some are calling it unacceptable, like Emily Tredeau, supervising attorney with the Prisoners Rights’ office.

“The department of health needs to reexamine its decision not to prioritize Vermont inmates in the vaccination schedule,” said Tredeau. “That decision puts us way behind many states that have recognized that inmates are as vulnerable as people in assisted living facilities. An outbreak in prison endangers the whole community because it puts prison staff at higher risk and could overwhelm local hospitals.”

State officials are holding a press conference Thursday morning to address the outbreak.

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