Letter: Bring Vermont inmates home

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Editor of the Reformer:

"We are all in this together" is the refrain we hear every day on radio and television, by politicians, journalists and pundits. It is supposed to console as that the Corona pandemic is hitting us all alike and has brought us together. But that is not true. The pandemic has not only shown us how vast and deep our class, race, ethnic, social and economic differences are, the pandemic has exacerbated them. It has become abundantly clear that there is no equity in our health care and educational systems, in working conditions, wages and wealth, in the criminal justice system, in housing and food security and in the treatment of the different races and ethnicities. And the corona crisis has laid open how rapacious our capitalist system is, always trying to privatize public functions and common tasks to make a fast buck for private interests.

Vermont is no exception to this, as the shocking news from Mississippi shows us: At least 85 inmates from Vermont have tested positive for COVID-19 at a private for-profit prison in Mississippi to which Vermont sends its "surplus" prison population. The infected inmates make up nearly 40 percent of the 219 inmates Vermont incarcerates at the for-profit prison. Their number will likely go up as additional test results come in. This is absolutely shocking and unacceptable. Does anyone think that a privately run prison whose main purpose is to make a fat profit would take care adequately of its inmates in a pandemic such as this one? We know that prisons are breeding grounds for the virus, and we know that a private prison corporation in far away Mississippi could care less how its inmates from Vermont are doing in this corona crisis. It was wrong to begin with for Vermont to send its offenders to for-profit prisons in other states. Vermont should have reduced its prison population by not incarcerating most nonviolent offenders and find alternative ways for punishing and rehabilitating them. That would have eliminated the need for sending the offenders to other states. That is a task that the Governor and the Legislature in Montpelier must tackle right away. But even more immediately: The Vermont inmates in Mississippi must all be brought home at once and given the care and treatment they need.

Reto Pieth

Grafton, Aug. 5

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