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Two Vermont Prisons On 'Modified Lockdown' Amid Baltimore Unrest

Northwest State Correctional Facility, shown in this 2008 file photo, would be closed as part of the new proposal.
Toby Talbot
Associated Press File
Northwest State Correctional Facility, shown in this 2008 file photo, is on "modified lockdown."

Vermont Corrections officials have two prisons on “modified lockdown” after receiving information suggesting some inmates may become violent in response to the continuing unrest in Baltimore, Md.

Officials are limiting the movements of inmates at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport and Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton, where there is continuing concern that some kind of incident would take place if security wasn’t extra tight.

“This was also somewhat exacerbated by the national picture right now, with some of the news that’s coming out of some other states and facilities specific to the Baltimore situation – that this may be occurring in support of what’s happening in Baltimore,” said Lisa Menard, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Corrections.

Menard said all of the state’s facilities were under modified lockdown on Tuesday, but only the Swanton and Newport facilities extended the heightened security to Wednesday. She said there have not been any incidents related to the information the department received.

Menard would not go into detail about how the department was initially tipped off to the potential threat, citing security concerns.

DOC Director of Facilities Mike Touchette said officials received an anonymous letter Wednesday morning that suggested “there may be a pocket of inmates who may be planning some sort of disruption,” which led officials to continue the modified lockdown there.

Officials said the modified lockdown protocol still allows inmates to move to essential services like medical care and meals, but does so carefully.

“A modified lockdown is a method to control very carefully any movement inside of a correctional facility,” said Touchette. “It differs from the day-to-day operations where most facilities are able to operate with some fairly free but controlled … movement windows around the facility – where we have identified windows of movement for people to go to educational services, to medical and mental health services, to programming, et cetera. Modified lockdown really tightens down those movement windows, where the essential movements are carried out, but they’re done so in a very controlled way utilizing a greater security presence to control that movement.”

Touchette said inmates under modified lockdown don’t go to educational classes as normal, although education might still continue through homework.

Menard said Vermont inmates housed by contract in private, out-of-state facilities have not been placed on lockdown or modified lockdown since security was stepped up in Vermont prisons.

Update 10:30 a.m. April 30, 2015 Director of Facilities Mike Touchette said Northwest State Correctional Facility resumed normal operations Wednesday evening. Touchette said only Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport remains on modified lockdown Thursday.

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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