Arlington's Baker picked to direct Dept. of Corrections

Arlington resident also on consultant team to evaluate Bennington PD's policies, procedures

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ARLINGTON — Former Vermont State Police director Jim Baker will serve as interim commissioner of the Department of Corrections amid an outside investigation of the department that is expected to last about four months.

Baker will temporarily fill the position vacated by Mike Touchette, who resigned on Dec. 18 following the publication earlier that month of news detailing allegations of sexual misconduct and drug abuse by officers at the state's lone prison for women.

Vermont Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith announced the appointment in a Dec. 27 news release.

The outside probe will be led by Tristram Coffin, former U.S. Attorney for Vermont, along with his legal team at Downs Rachlin Martin and an unspecified "corrections expert," according to the news release. Investigators "will have access to all correctional facilities in Vermont," Smith said in the release, "but the majority of the work will focus on Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility," a prison for women since August 2011.

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On Jan. 6, Baker "will assume the day-to-day operational and management control of the Department of Corrections," according to the release.

In an email on Tuesday, Baker said he was "still getting up to speed" on the assignment and declined further comment.

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Baker lives in Arlington and in recent years has served as director of the Arlington Area Renewal Project, a group dedicated to the town's improvement. He is also a member of the four-person consultant team tasked with evaluating the Bennington Police Department's policies and procedures, a review requested by Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan after the local department faced criticism for its handling of then-state Rep. Kiah Morris' complaints of racially motivated harassment.

"This was not an opportunity I was seeking, but rather a request made of me to assist in leading an organization that has been through turbulent times," Baker wrote of the new assignment in a recent Renewal Project online newsletter.

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Baker agreed to the 90-to-120-day assignment "to stabilize the work environment" at the department because of its "significant impact on the safety of Vermonters," he wrote.

The work will require him to be away from Arlington "for periods of time," Baker wrote, but "I have no intention of backing away from the work of the Renewal Project." The new post will, however, require him "to be more focused on impactful Renewal Project efforts," a narrowed approach he compared with the early days of the project, when he still worked in Washington, D.C.

Baker worked for the State Police for more than 30 years, serving as director from 2006 to 2009. He has also served as interim director of the Vermont Police Academy, the Rutland police chief and director of advocacy for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

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