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Vermont Corrections Dept. suspends inmate visits

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WATERBURY — The Vermont Department of Corrections today suspended inmate visits at all state correctional facilities in an effort to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Officials will review the policy in two weeks to determine if the in-person visits can then resume, said Alan Cormier, the department's director of corrections.

In the mean time, inmates can communicate with family and friends through video calls at designated kiosks. The vendor, a technology company called GTL, has offered to provide inmates with one free "video visitation" a week during this period, Cormier said. Each video call, which can last up to 25 minutes, normally costs $6.95.

Inmates also have access to text and photo messaging on digital tablets provided by the corrections department, Cormier added.

The measure affects Vermont's six correctional facilities: Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland, Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury, Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton and Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.

The department is monitoring inmates for symptoms of the coronavirus, or COVID-19 disease, such as a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Anyone suspected of having the virus will be tested in coordination with the state Department of Health, Cormier said.

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None of Vermont's correctional facilities currently have test kits for the coronavirus, he said when asked.

According to 2018 data from the corrections department, the state's correctional facilities have a total inmate population of around 1,700.

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Vermont has so far recorded two positive cases of the coronavirus. The first was reported in Bennington County over the weekend, and the second in Chittenden County on Wednesday.

Just past Vermont's southwestern border, the Rensselaer County Sheriff's office on Thursday also suspended visits at the county jail and worked on alternate means of inmate communication.

The policy, which will remain until further notice, was put in place at the recommendation of the Rensselaer County Health Department, the sheriff's office said in a release.

It said the county government and the sheriff's office are working with vendors to provide inmates with alternate ways of communicating with family and friends — video visitation, telephone calls and tablet use — "at reduced rates."

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"Please be patient while we work to accomplish these measures," the release reads. "These measures are taken to protect the at-risk inmate population, staff, volunteers and visitors' health and welfare to the best of our ability during this public health emergency."

The sheriff's office couldn't immediately comment Thursday on which of the alternate communication platforms are already in use at the jail.

The Rensselaer County Correctional Facility, located at 4000 Main St. in Troy, N.Y., can house up to 473 inmates, according to the sheriff's office website.

The new jail measures include the suspension of all volunteer programs and services, as well as inmates' in-person contact with attorneys. Inmates can speak with their lawyers through video teleconferencing units in the professional visitation area, the release states.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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