Vermont Activists Battle Private Prisons

“According to southern Vermont’s Rutland Herald the number of prisoners in Vermont increased at “nearly five times the national average” between 2002 and 2003.  The number of teenagers and young adults in Vermont jails surged by more than 77 percent. A racialized “get tough on crime” ideology, mandatory minimums, and harsher sentencing guidelines from the failed war on drugs left then Republican Vermont Governor Jim Douglas at a moment of departure: build new prisons, or start shipping Vermonters incarcerated under these controversial policies into the deep south to be warehoused without even the “rehabilitative” programs found in Vermont prisons…”

Excerpts:  One Tiny State’s Movement to Ban Private Prisons|CounterPunch

by JONATHAN LEAVITT

“Vermont, the most progressive state in America, spent over $14 million last year to lock up Vermonters in for-profit prisons like Lee Adjustment Center, located in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. Private prisons like Correctional Corporation of America (CCA)’s Lee Adjustment Center offer no mental health, educational or rehabilitational services, but they do post massive corporate profits; CCA showed profits of $1.7 billion in 2011 alone. As best-selling author Michelle Alexander notes in her seminal book The New Jim Crow, more black men are under correctional control now than were enslaved in 1850. A recent New Yorker think piece noted more Americans are now incarcerated than there were imprisoned in Stalin’s gulags. Clearly a dialogue about the intersection of mass incarceration, budget crises, and privatization is unfolding. A group of Vermonters working out of Church basements and living rooms, is attempting to build a movement to push this conversation forward by passing a historic law banning Vermont’s use of for-profit prisons…”

“…According to Prison Legal News’ Matthew Clarke, CCA doubled the population of Lee Adjustment Center in three months in 2004 with a massive influx of some of the first Vermont prisoners housed in private prisons. These conditions and what State Senator James Leddy called a “rogue warden” led to an uprising at Lee Adjustment Center involving 100 inmates. Kentucky’s Louisville Currier Journal and Vermont’sTimes Argus detailed how the rioters tore down fences, began “tearing apart” a wooden guard tower with a guard still inside, toppled the guard tower and fires “heavily damaged the administration building and guard shack.”

“The inmates literally had control of this place, the inner compound,” said Adam Corliss, an inmate from Springfield Vermont. A week and a half after the riot Montpelier,Vermont daily, The Times Argus, printed an excerpt of a Vermont inmates’ letter home to his finance detailing the uprising: “Inmates chasing guards with 2x4s breaking everything in sight…It was so hostile that the S.W.A.T. team of guards came in, launching tear gas, armed with shotguns.”

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…When the Assistant Warden summoned the 20-person response team only three responded…Clarke details the precipitating conditions: racial and regional prejudices, overcrowding, poor nutrition, and CCA’s warden undertaking, “a zero-tolerance disciplinary crackdown that gave guards the ability to discipline prisoners without proof of misconduct and even put them in solitary confinement for 60 days without disciplinary charges.” These conditions and the riot they produced happened in the first months of Vermont’s experiment with private prisons. Rather than serving as a cautionary tale about the hollowed out services privatization provides, policymakers have only increased the number of Vermonters housed in Lee Adjustment Center and other CCA prisons since…”

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“…As the first of many Vermont church basement organizing conversations unfolds, high schooler’s hands are flashing in the air: “How is this moral?” “Why do corporations do this?” and in so many different ways “What can I do?” Infinite Culcleasure and Suzi Wizowaty have skillfully transfigured the church basement of teenagers into eager community organizers. Before the conversation reaches its midpoint the high schoolers are poised to bring this dialogue out into the larger community; to hold their elected officials accountable and draw Vermonters across the state together to share their stories and build a movement which can be a sufficient countervailing force to the influence of Wall Street’s private prisons. Afterwards, the interstitial space of the Church hallway is luminous with excitement; the Pastor offers Suzi and Infinite the opportunity for similar conversations about for-profit prisons in congregations around Vermont. Just down the corridor a new generation of organizers is sending so many social media appeals to shutter Lee Adjustment Center, shutter CCA and to shutter the private prison industry. Their prescient questions haunt me as I walk out into the snow: “How is this moral?” “Why do corporations do this?” and in so many different ways “What can I do?”

Read the outstanding full article here on CounterPunch

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About WyldMoonChyld

Artist, activist.
This entry was posted in American Legislative Exchange Council, Corrections Corporation of America, Mental Health, Private Prisons, Slavery, Torture for $$$, Vermont and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.