Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Vermont Inmates Say They Aren't Informed About COVID-19 Cases Behind Bars

Two people on a dock with fishing poles, leaning in for a photo.
Anna Rock, Courtesy

Vermont’s Department of Corrections has taken aggressive measures in response to the coronavirus. But according to inmates, those housed and working inside the state's prisons don't always have up-to-date information.

On Wednesday morning, the department sent a press release to reporters announcing aninmate at Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton tested positive for COVID-19. That followed a Tuesday announcement that a third Swanton staffer had tested positive for the illness. In response, the department said it would test all 199 inmates and 125 staff members for COVID-19.

At least one inmate said he hadn’t heard any of this by late in the morning on Wednesday.

“The last update we got was Monday,” said Brian Rock, who is incarcerated at the prison in Swanton. The chief of security, Rock said, “told us that there was only one positive case,” which had been announced a week before.

“It upsets me that they’re not giving us this information,” he said. “We live here.”

More from VPR: Vermont Inmates Report Inconsistent Access To Soap, Hand Sanitizer

Last week, Northeast Correctional Complex inmate Justin Morale told VPR in a call from the St. Johnsbury prison that he hadn't received much information at all about coronavirus, other than instructions to stay calm. And that was well after the first DOC staffer had tested positive for COVID-19.

"They haven't given us any flyers or information at all," he said.

In Swanton, Brian Rock said even staff seemed confused at times.

On Monday, he said, staff wore face masks and inmates didn’t know why and hadn’t received their own. A man in his unit, Rock said, had tried to fashion a face mask out of the kind of sleeping mask you might get on an airplane.

“It just literally covered his mouth into like the middle of the bridge of his nose,” Rock said, “and they tried to make him take it off. And he's like, ‘I'm not, you're not taking it off. I'm so scared to catch this sh--. I'm not taking it off.' And they dragged him and put him in a hole for it.”

“The hole” refers to segregation, a small room used for punishment.

“I don't believe anybody was dragged off to seg,” facilities executive Al Cormier said when asked about the incident.

More from VPR: First Vermont Inmate Tests Positive For COVID-19

But, he said, there had been miscommunications about whether inmates should be disciplined as they previously had been for covering their faces.

“I do know that on Friday, there was an email put out by a supervisor, reminding staff that inmates covering their mouth — covering their faces — could be ... disciplined," he said. "I think it was more out of a panic decision than it was a responsive decision.”

Cormier added the issue had been “cleared up,” and that inmates are allowed to wear masks.

On Wednesday, Rock said the inmate had returned from segregation, and confirmed that inmates have received face masks and are allowed to wear them.

Emily Corwin reported investigative stories for VPR until August 2020. In 2019, Emily was part of a two-newsroom team which revealed that patterns of inadequate care at Vermont's eldercare facilities had led to indignities, injuries, and deaths. The consequent series, "Worse for Care," won a national Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting, and placed second for a 2019 IRE Award. Her work editing VPR's podcast JOLTED, about an averted school shooting, and reporting NHPR's podcast Supervision, about one man's transition home from prison, made her a finalist for a Livingston Award in 2019 and 2020. Emily was also a regular reporter and producer on Brave Little State, helping the podcast earn a National Edward R. Murrow Award for its work in 2020. When she's not working, she enjoys cross country skiing and biking.
Latest Stories