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Mental Health Services Suspended At Some Vermont Prisons

A person smiling.

The Vermont Department of Corrections has confirmed that inmates at some facilities don't have access to mental health services. 

Chris Burnor, a man held at Northwest State Correctional Facility, told VPR his weekly visits with mental health professionals ended when the outbreak of COVID-19 began inside that prison.

"After everything else has happened in my life, mental health has always been there," Burnor said. "Now the most crazy thing that's ever happened in my life, and mental health is not there for us. I just don't understand."

Burnor said because he is held in a closed custody unit, he used to see a counselor every week. He said he struggles with PTSD, and is isolated in a single-person cell.

“Once you actually speak to somebody about something,” he said, “maybe you feel better about whatever the situation is.”

Additionally, Burnor said, he’s concerned for his fellow inmates, many of whom he described as seriously mentally ill or functionally impaired.

More from VPR: How Are Vermont Prisons Handling COVID-19?

Commissioner of Corrections Jim Baker said he recently learned that mental health services had been suspended in some facilities.

“I was concerned when I heard about this,” he said. “We all know that stress drives triggers for folks who are in mental health crises.”

Baker said his office began working to address the issue in the last couple days.

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.
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