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Auditor’s report finds significant deficiencies in Vt. Department of Corrections' grievance procedures

A building with barber wire fences on top of the wall.
Courtesy, the Vermont Department of Corrections
A report released this week by the Vermont state auditor's office found significant deficiencies in the Departments of Corrections' system for handling complaints from incarcerated people. The department says it plans to overhaul the system.

A new report from the state auditor’s office found significant deficiencies in the Vermont Department of Corrections' grievance process, including incomplete data, little oversight, and at times, an apparent lack of response to reports filed by incarcerated individuals.

DOC is required by law to have a way for incarcerated people to file complaints and a process to address those issues. DOC’s policy requires people to file an informal complaint, and then if the issue isn’t resolved, a prisoner can file a formal grievance. Vermont’s current prison population is around 1,300.

The auditor’s office focused the grievance process at four of the six state-run prisons, and also looked at the process for Vermonters held out-of-state at a private prison in Mississippi. The office examined thousands of grievances that were filed between Jan. 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022.

The auditor’s office found that DOC’s record keeping system didn’t have basic information about grievances, including the number, type, status of the complaint or the outcome of the grievance. The report said without that information it was impossible to assess if DOC was adequately responding to grievances or following its own policy. The auditor’s office did review scanned paper grievance forms and found dozens of inadequate responses, the report says.

“While there may not be a large constituency out there for inmates, once they are in state custody it's the 8th Amendment question,” said state auditor Doug Hoffer in an interview. “You have to provide housing and clothing, and food, healthcare, and so forth — and we have an obligation.”

The staff overseeing the grievance process also needs better training, and DOC needs to task a member of its executive staff with overseeing the process, according to the report.

DOC, in its response to Hoffer’s report, agreed that its grievance system is in need of an overhaul.

“We really welcomed that opportunity to collaborate with them and work through it,” said DOC Commissioner Nick Deml in an interview. “I think it's helpful to have some outside input and highlighting these key opportunities where we can improve the system.”

Deml said the department would create a digital system for filing and tracking grievances, update its staff training, and assign the department’s general counsel to oversee the system. DOC also plans to launch a new investigative unit whose job will include auditing the grievance process.

The new digital grievance system could roll out in early-spring, Deml said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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