MONTPELIER >> Lawyers from Vermont's Prisoners' Rights Office plan to travel to Michigan this weekend to investigate a series of incidents in a private prison there that houses Vermont inmates.
Defender General Matt Valerio, whose office includes the prisoners' rights unit, said two staff members from that unit would travel to the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan, on Sunday to investigate the May 25 incidents.
"We've had different accounts of an incident that took place allegedly with inmates who were in segregation," Valerio said. "We don't really know what caused it and we aren't clear about the nature and extent," he said, adding that it appeared to have begun when prison staff launched a search for contraband, including weapons.
Prison staff had been conducting a "routine emergency drill" that included searching cells and evacuating part of the facility to simulate a fire drill, GEO Group Inc., the private prison firm that owns the facility, said in a statement released by spokesman Pablo Paez.
"During the drill, four inmates refused to cooperate with staff, and the situation was appropriately handled by the facility staff," the statement says. "The incident did not involve a facility disturbance, and normal operations continued throughout the day."
Mike Touchette, the state Corrections Department's director of facility operations, said the department is reviewing reports about the incidents. He said there was no indication from reviews so far that any prison staff behaved improperly.
"We don't have any concerns that they violated the terms of our contract, or any policies that they are required to have" under its terms, Touchette said.
Vermont houses 236 inmates at the Michigan facility. When Vermont first moved the prisoners to Michigan from another private prison in Kentucky a year ago, there were about 280.
Under pressure from inmates' rights groups and some lawmakers, Vermont corrections officials have been working to reduce the number of prisoners housed in private, out-of-state facilities.