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Prisoners For Peyton? Violent Offenders Lobby For Shumlin Opponent

Taylor Dobbs
Vermont inmates incarcerated in Kentucky have sent VPR 17 cards asking the station to provide more coverage of Emily Peyton.

A group of inmates serving time for murder, sexual assault and other violent crimes has been sending postcards to Vermont Public Radio on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Emily Peyton.

The Vermont inmates are incarcerated in a private prison in Kentucky operated by the Corrections Corporation of America. Their postcards say they “would like to hear VPR feature Emily more.”

"There's numbers of Vermonters who are incarcerated through an overzealous prison-industrial complex industry." - Gubernatorial candidate Emily Peyton

Richard Byrne, the supervisor of the Department of Corrections' out of state unit, said inmates housed in the two facilities outside of Vermont are generally serving six months or more, and are more likely serving sentences for felony crimes, though the state does sometimes send people who have committed misdemeanors.

Peyton says she sent the cards to inmate Victor Hall, who is serving time for aggravated sexual assault of his stepdaughter. Peyton said Hall had been in touch with her about his case, claiming that he is innocent but was “railroaded” into a conviction.

“This is not a new story,” Peyton said. “There’s numbers of Vermonters who are incarcerated through an overzealous prison-industrial complex industry.”

Peyton said Vermonters need to be safe, and some people must be put in prison to meet that end. But she said she believes Vermont needs to do “a deep independent review of prosecutorial practices that sometimes include stacking charges, exaggerating charges, in order to be able to have a plea deal.”

She said she wants to reform Vermont’s corrections system, including figuring out a way to reduce the number of innocent Vermonters behind bars.

The only example Peyton offered of a case she found questionable was Hall’s. She said there are others she is aware of, but refused to specify because she was unsure if the other inmates wanted their stories told publicly.

“Unfortunately, there’s such a bias that’s been created almost purposefully through the years,” Peyton said. “Now, you can no longer plead ‘innocent.’ You have to plead a form of ‘guilty.’ It’s either ‘not guilty’ or ‘guilty.’”

Asked about why she is aligning her campaign with Vermonters convicted of crimes such as the first-degree murder of a spouse, sexual assault, kidnappings, shootings, and child molestation, Peyton pointed to the Innocence Project, which she says has proven that 25 percent of murder convictions are based on false confessions.

Peyton is running as a Republican, but Vermont Republican Party Chairman Dave Sunderland said the party is not and will not be supporting or endorsing Peyton in any way.

“Obviously in Vermont we have open primaries and anybody can enter any primary based on their own decision solely,” he said. “We actually have a rule in our state committee rules that says that we will not support candidates who have run in two previous elections and have gained less than 25 percent of the vote in each of those elections."

With or without the GOP's help, Peyton's campaign is gearing up to send similar cards to other news organizations calling for increased coverage.

While recruiting convicted felons to lobby media organizations is an uncommon strategy, Peyton’s efforts to engage Vermont’s prison population may help her in elections; Vermont is one of only two states where incarcerated citizens may vote.

Will Senning is the elections director at the Secretary of State’s office, and says being incarcerated doesn’t change Vermonters’ residential status and no other law on the book forbids convicts from voting.

Incarcerated Vermonters can do everything from voter registration to the casting of an absentee ballot from prison. They can also sign candidates’ petitions to appear on the ballot. Peyton said she did not gather signatures from any Vermont prisoners for her petitions.

Byrne, of the state Department of Corrections, said that the state's contract with Corrections Corporation of America allows the company to act as an agent for voter registration for its Vermont inmates.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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