State police K-9 units recruited to sniff out drugs in prisons

The Vermont State Police and the Vermont Department of Corrections have signed an agreement to have regular and on-call K-9 drug detection teams in Vermont prisons to help stem the flow of drugs to inmates.

The parties this month signed a memorandum of understanding committing up to $25,000 for one year of searches throughout the state's correctional facility system.

The visits will take place "multiple times a year" in each of the seven state prisons, DOC Director of Facilities Michael Touchette said, though he declined to specify exactly how often the searches would occur. Touchette said DOC finds contraband substances about once a week.

The department did not have recent figures on drugs reported in the state's prison system. However, in 2012, the most recent data available, there were 78 incidents in which buprenorphine was recovered, four recoveries of cocaine, 10 of heroin, 35 of marijuana and 30 of various prescription pills.

In 2012, state police investigated 35 reported incidents of "transportation of alcohol, tobacco or regulated drugs into places of detention," according to a news release.

The high prices paid for illicit substances in prisons keeps the supply fairly steady, said Capt. Tim Clouatre, assistant state field force commander for the Vermont State Police.

The agreement is not necessarily indicative of a growing drug problem in the state's jails, officials said.


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Most often, Touchette said, drugs enter correctional facilities through the mail.

Buprenorphine strips, which are about the size of a postage stamp, are particularly easy to conceal.

"Contraband certainly comes through visiting, it can be launched over a fence or folks in the community anticipating going to jail sometimes plan to bring things in with them," he said.

In April, the Associated Press reported a woman attempted to bring buprenorphine into a Rutland prison by attaching it to her one-year-old baby.

FEMA won't fund rebuilding of culverts

The Obama administration launched an initiative Wednesday aimed at helping local communities better prepare for the impacts of climate change, but one of Vermont's key recommendations to the president was not included.

The state wants to use FEMA public assistance money to help rebuild culverts and bridges so streams pass under the roads instead of washing them out.

But according to FEMA, the state's engineering plans for these projects do not meet its current uniform "codes and standards" and therefore don't qualify for public assistance money.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and other state officials are part of the president's task force, which is charged with recommending ways states can better prepare for natural disasters linked to climate change.

The state this year adopted new Stream Alteration General Permit guidelines, which govern how new projects that impact streams -- like roads, bridges and culverts -- must be built.

FEMA says the state cannot qualify for public assistance money because the guidelines do not apply "uniformly to all bridge and culvert replacement projects," according to a June 16 letter to the state.

Ben Rose, the recovery and mitigation section chief for Vermont Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the new state standards include replacing smaller pipe culverts with bottomless ones that allow water to flow through smoothly.

The larger culverts cost more upfront, but Rose said they will save taxpayers money in the long run."We want to build stuff that's going to withstand the next flood," he said.

ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz is one of several state officials who made recommendations to the Obama administration over the past year and was in Washington last week, along with Shumlin and Sue Minter of the state transportation department. Markowitz said making FEMA funding flexible was "very specifically one of the recommendations."

When FEMA rejected the state's request to qualify certain projects for public assistance funding, Markowitz said, "We were frankly very surprised."

~VTDigger.org