Early results show 85 Vermont inmates have tested positive for coronavirus at the privately-owned prison in Mississippi where they’re incarcerated, according to an email from the Vermont Department of Corrections.
The agency ordered COVID-19 tests on Thursday for all 219 Vermont inmates at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi. That order came two days after six Vermont inmates who’d been held there tested positive upon being transferred to Marble Valley Regional Correctional in Rutland.
Corrections officials wrote Sunday that one Vermont inmate still held in Mississippi who’d previously been reported as positive is included in the total of 85. They also wrote that since some test results are still pending, the total number of cases may change.
James Lyall, Executive Director of Vermont ACLU believes Vermont’s Department of Corrections (DOC) should have been more proactive in testing its inmates in Mississippi, a state that isn’t testing as quickly or as wide-spread as Vermont.
“We’ve been calling on the Scott administration to test all incarcerated Vermonters, including those incarcerated out of state for months and they have refused to do so,” said Lyall.
On Friday, Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith ensured tests would get down to Mississippi.
“All Vermont prisoners currently in Mississippi will be tested. It started last night (Thursday). we hoped to have it finished today (Friday),” said Secretary Smith.
He pointed out, Mississippi was only testing symptomatic prisoners. He confirmed, the six inmates returned to the Green Mountain State as they were preparing for release. A seventh Vermont inmate in Mississippi also tested positive. It’s said the inmate was in contact with the other six inmates.
Smith assures they plan to not only establish more testing in Mississippi…but continue to reduce the numbers of inmates.
“We have learned in Vermont when you have multiple cases as we saw the other day, more aggressive testing is needed and that is what corrections is working to put in place right now,” said Secretary Smith.
But Lyall says Vermont inmates were not sentenced to sickness or death by Covid-19. They need to be tested. Otherwise, it could greatly affect the communities and families in which they belong.
Even though we have reduced the prison population significantly, there’s far more than can and must be done to improve conditions and reduce the risk of not just the people who work there, live there, are incarcerated there. but the surrounding community,” said Lyall.