December 13, 2019
Montpelier, VT— In recent days, the Vermont media have published detailed stories describing profoundly disturbing reports of sexual misconduct, assault, and abuse at Vermont’s correctional facility for women, the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF).
The Vermont Commission on Women has been a long-standing advocate for ensuring that Vermont women in prison are provided equal rights and opportunities and that their health, safety, education, and overall welfare are safeguarded. We recognize that many of the conditions described in the media have been known and acknowledged for many years, without being remediated. In 2012 we joined with other advocates in the publication of “Reclaiming Lost Ground for Vermont’s Incarcerated Women,” in which we called for immediate action to address threats to the health, safety, and human dignity of Vermont’s incarcerated women. We are gravely concerned that without a deep commitment to systemic and cultural change, accompanied by ongoing demonstrated accountability measures by the Department of Corrections and the Agency of Human Services, Vermont will continue to find itself in the same position in the future.
Based on the reported stories of abuse, the Commission has serious questions regarding the ability of CRCF to address allegations in a timely, thoughtful and consistent manner. Every government is supported by a community, and in this case the State of Vermont appears to have failed some of the most vulnerable members of the community. We applaud the swift response on the part of Governor Scott and the Agency of Human Services to commit to an external investigation of the reported incidents, and are encouraged by Agency leadership’s commitment to a more comprehensive and deeper evaluation of the entire system of corrections. The stories reported in the media are symptomatic of a system built upon punitive, rather than restorative, practices, and one that fails to appropriately respond to trauma.
Reaching out to community partners and organizations who provide resources that focus on shifting the system from punitive to restorative responses will allow for a greater opportunity for incarcerated women and men to be successful.
Our concern is not only for the safety and well-being of the Vermonters in the care and custody of the Department of Corrections, but also for that of the staff upon whom those Vermonters depend. It is imperative that the State of Vermont commit to implementing trauma-informed practices that will guarantee that women will not be further traumatized by the people whose job is to protect them; a corrections workforce that is well-qualified, well-trained, and well-prepared to high standards around accountability and professionalism; and correctional officers being supported as professionals and free from harassment on the job themselves.
The Vermont Commission on Women (VCW) is a non-partisan state agency advancing rights and opportunities for women and girls. Sixteen volunteer commissioners, along with representatives from organizations concerned with women's issues, guide VCW's public education, coalition building, and advocacy efforts.