Coalition wants to bring Vermont prisoners home

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- In the seven years since Sha'an Mouliert's son was sent to a privately run prison a thousand miles away, the Vermont woman hasn't laid eyes on him.

"I live on a very limited income. I don't have the financial resources to go see him," said Mouliert, of St. Johnsbury. "I have not physically seen him. I have not touched him ... I'm imprisoned, too."

A sex offender, 34-year-old Yasin Mouliert is serving an 11-year sentence at the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, Kentucky. His mother is part of a growing cohort of Vermont activists who are pushing for the state to bring back the nearly 500 inmates it houses at prisons owned by the Corrections Corporation of America in Kentucky and in Florence, Arizona.

"Our coalition strives for a criminal justice system that is fair, consistent, frugal with public tax dollars and effective in reducing crime," the groups, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union's Vermont chapter to religious organizations, said in an Oct. 30 letter to Gov. Peter Shumlin and lawmakers. "Warehousing Vermont prisoners in for-profit prisons across state lines goes counter to that vision."

The groups have called a meeting at the Statehouse on Nov. 19 in the House Judiciary Committee.

Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for Corrections Corporation of America, said the company has given its inmates from Vermont an array of educational, mental health and faith-based programs over more than a decade of working with the state. He noted that 130 have received GED diplomas and more than 250 have earned vocational certificates.

Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito told The Associated Press that the state has stemmed sharp growth in its prison population. Strategies including court-diversion programs for nonviolent drug offenders and transitional housing for released inmates also chipped away at the pressure to send inmates out of state.

Vermont's prison population was growing by 137 a year when Pallito started as commissioner eight years ago, he said. Now it is being reduced by an average of 13 inmates a year.

"We were up around 600 men out of state at one point," Pallito said. "We were projected to be over 1,000 out of state by now." Instead, as of Friday, Vermont had 1,419 men housed in-state and 471 at the Kentucky and Arizona prisons. No women go to those facilities, the commissioner said.

"There's 475 more people than we have beds for," Pallito said. But given the decline in that number in recent years, "I'm kind of upbeat about this because I feel like we're making some progress. I understand it's not as fast as some people would like."

Both Pallito and Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, chair of the Corrections Oversight Committee, said they doubted a fiscally struggling state government would find an estimated $100 million to build a new prison to house the inmates currently shipped out of state.

Mouliert, who is of mixed African, Native American and European heritage and has taught racial sensitivity seminars, likened private companies profiting from imprisoned people to slavery.

"Here they are making money from imprisoned people and have separated them from their family," she said.

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