Skip to main content

Statement on Vermont’s Prison Population and the COVID-19 Emergency

March 19, 2020

Contact: Charity R. Clark, Chief of Staff, (802) 828-3171

The COVID-19 emergency means that all of our current systems and networks are under stress, including the Department of Corrections (DOC). This is an opportunity to work together to find solutions that are consistent with public health and public safety. Prosecution offices across the state, including mine, have been looking at safe and deliberate ways to continue reducing Vermont’s current prison population. Reducing the population of inmates held in pre-trial detention, which is when a person accused of a crime is imprisoned prior to trial, is one possible remedy.

Among the Attorney General’s Office’s current criminal caseload, there are only a handful of pre-trial detention inmates. They are charged with the most serious crimes, including murder and child luring, and, therefore, not eligible. In all other criminal cases currently pending at the Attorney General’s Office, pre-trial defendants are not incarcerated at this time. All cases with defendants not incarcerated have been continued for 60 days.

We have also reviewed our two pending extradition requests. These are requests made to other states to turn over to law enforcement individuals accused of a crime. For Vermont’s pending extradition requests, one person is not currently in custody.  In the other extradition case, we are currently in the process of requesting the warrant be lifted, likely resulting in the release of a prisoner currently held in a Massachusetts jail to parole under Massachusetts supervision. The Attorney General’s Office will continue to review its criminal docket in its entirety to ensure that public safety and public health needs are being met.

This morning I spoke to DOC Commissioner James Baker. I offered my support and assistance to DOC as they find ways to safely manage and protect their inmate population. Commissioner Baker outlined DOC’s plan to review their inmate population and informed me that DOC has reduced their population this week. Commissioner Baker also communicated his ongoing commitment to continue the review of prisoner eligibility for release in these unprecedented times.  The Attorney General’s Office stands ready to assist in this review and help in assessing public safety and public health needs, including adequate housing and medical care.

As other offices continue to review pre-trial detention issues, it is important to note that this process must be careful, considered, and thoughtful. Many factors need to be considered in light of how stressed our community support systems are at this point. The Attorney General’s Office will continue to do our job to protect all Vermonters.