The ACLU of Vermont is calling on state officials to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the state’s prisons after an employee at Northern Correctional Facility in Newport tested positive for COVID-19.
Advocacy Director Falko Shilling said the case underscores the need for officials to reduce the prison populaiton, something the ACLU has long been calling for.
“People are packed together in tight quarters and we know that that is how this virus spreads,” said Schilling. “We don’t want to see our prison became vectors where people who work in these facilities are taking this virus outside into their larger communities and spreading.”
The Newport cases was announced Monday. The employee is isolated at home. The Department of Corrections says no inmates were infected, but it’s not clear how many, if any, have been tested. The department has obtained a list of all staff who had contact with the individual.
In the meantime, the department has suspended in-person visitation and volunteer services.
Schilling says the ACLU has been contacted the Scott administration, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and lawmakers. The group has also been working with the Department of Corrections, but Schilling said there needs to be more done.
” We need to be looking more broadly at people for instance, those who have technical violations of community supervision and those who are tirades of infection and trying to find a way to effectively move them out into the community,” said Schilling.
Interim Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said the department has been screening anyone who enters the prisons since the outbreak began in Wuhan, China.
“We reduced our prison population since February 24 by 220 people and we’ve been working feverishly to try to figure out way to get people out,” said Baker.
However, it hasn’t been easy, he said. “We have to be very careful that we take into consideration the nature of the offense and how that impacts victims because I do not want victims re-traumatized,” said Baker.
The ACLU’s Shilling said a larger outbreak in correctional facilities would pose a great risk to the community at large.
“Our fear is that we see this virus spread through our facilities and we have extremely high rates of infection within the facilities that would then override the realm of the medical capacity within the facilities, and need to be treated outside the facilities taking up even more of our hospital capacity,” he said.