Vermont prisons chief resigns; state to launch external review of corrections department

Local News

Mike Touchette, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections, has resigned in the wake of a news report that alleges more than a dozen officers at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility engaged in drug use and sexual assault at the women’s prison in South Burlington.

According to Mike Smith, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, Touchette has stepped down after a 30-year career at the corrections department. Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Judy Henkin will serve as acting commissioner. She is also overseeing daily operations at Chittenden Correctional for the time being.

Gov. Phil Scott shed some light Wednesday night on the timeline of Touchette’s resignation. “It was submitted on Monday and Secretary Smith accepted his resignation on Monday night,” he said. “It’s unfortunate in many different respects, and we’ll move on from here.”

Smith wrote in a statement that he will ask the governor to pay for an independent investigation of the entire department. “I am hopeful this investigation will start within the next few weeks and conclude within 120 days,” Smith said. “This will ensure we get an outside perspective on the conditions within the Department of Corrections.” Exactly who would perform the investigation is unclear at this point.

Meanwhile, Smith hopes to make recommendations to Scott by the end of the week on staffing and training at the facility, which became a women’s prison in 2011.

The Agency of Human Services has created a hotline for corrections department employees to report sensitive information, including allegations of misconduct. That number is (802) 828-1141. Smith said he has told supervisors that no retaliation against potential whistleblowers will be tolerated. He’s encouraging anyone who knows of such retaliation to call his office directly at (802) 241-0440.

The allegations concerning Chittenden Correctional may not be the only ones within the corrections department recently. Touchette said last Friday that the superintendent and assistant superintendent at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport had been placed on administrative leave. At that time, he announced that an unspecified credible report had been made about the two of them which merited further inquiry.

This is a developing story.

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