ACLU of Vermont Statement in Response to First Incarcerated Vermonter Testing Positive for COVID-19

MONTPELIER, Vt – State officials yesterday reported the first case of an incarcerated person testing positive for COVID-19, in Vermont’s Northwest State Correctional Facility. Three corrections officials from the same facility have also tested positive for the virus. The prison has been placed in lockdown, and everyone who lives and works in the facility will now be tested for COVID-19.

ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Lyall: “This latest confirmed case of COVID-19 in Vermont’s prisons underscores the urgent necessity of safely reducing our prison population by every available means. Vermont officials have made progress in recent weeks but must do more to prevent a rapid spread of infections inside these facilities and in the surrounding communities.

We know that social distancing is virtually impossible in our prisons. We know that people can be contagious well before they show symptoms. We know this presents a threat not only to those who live and work in prison, but to our community at large. We have seen prison populations rapidly overwhelmed with infections in other states. Yesterday, we learned that the single largest known source of COVID-19 infections in the country is not a cruise ship or a retirement home—it’s a jail.

For all these reasons, we renew our calls for Governor Scott to do everything in his power to address this threat to Vermont communities. Recognizing the tremendous risk posed by overcrowded prison systems, governors in other states have used their authority to expedite prison reductions in the name of public health. Governor Scott should not wait any longer to take similar executive action here in Vermont in order to save lives.

At a minimum, Governor Scott should use his authority to designate for medical furlough those who are elderly and medically compromised, who are at particularly heightened risk of harm. People in our prisons were not sentenced to suffer and die in a pandemic, and the people who work in our prisons deserve to know that everything that can be done, has been done to protect them and their loved ones, before it is too late. This latest case is further evidence that we are running out of time.”