- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont inmates being held in private Kentucky and Arizona prisons will be moved to a facility in Michigan under terms of a new contract the Department of Corrections signed with a different private prison operator, the department said Tuesday.

Citing security concerns, Vermont officials wouldn’t specify when the 319 inmates would begin the process of moving to the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan, a rural area about 175 miles northwest of Detroit, but the department’s current contract with the Corrections Corporation of America expires June 30.

The new two-year, $30.4 million contract with The GEO Group, Inc., will save Vermont about $2,055 per inmate per year, the state said. The GEO Group will also offer inmate rehabilitation programs.

“There are a lot of pros to this, “said Mike Touchette, director of facilities for the Vermont Corrections Department. “The facility itself, the brick and mortar of the facility, is fairly new. It’s modern. It is made to house the types of inmates that we are sending out.”

For example, he said the 1,912-bed facility was built with suicide deterrence in mind, something newer prisons are concentrating on. It also has video conferencing capabilities that will make it easier for inmates to keep in touch with their families back in Vermont.

The former Michigan Youth Correctional Facility near Baldwin in Lake County’s Webber Township was closed in 2005 after the state decided it could save money by sending young inmates to state-run prisons instead of the private facility. The private prison held inmates from California for a brief period but has been closed since 2011.

A bill that recently passed the Michigan House and is pending in the Senate would lift a restriction that currently prevents maximum-security prisoners from being house there.

Touchette said GEO would classify the security risk of the Vermont inmates using the system of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Using the current system, most of the Vermont inmates are eligible to be housed in Michigan, he added.

“Two of those are still in review and they may end up being returned to Vermont,” Touchette said.

For almost two decades Vermont has been sending a number of its inmates to out-of-state facilities because there are not enough beds in the state’s seven prisons. The current number of 319 inmates out of state is lower than it has been, but Touchette said there is enough flexibility in the contract to take more if needed.

The GEO Group describes itself as the world’s leading provider of diversified correctional, detention, community re-entry and electronic monitoring services. It operates in the United States, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom and it has 106 facilities worldwide.

Suzi Wizowaty, of the group Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, which is trying to reduce the number Vermonters in all prisons, said the move would be difficult on the men, but in the end the new prison probably wouldn’t be any worse than where they are currently housed.

“The issue primarily is they are so far away from their families,” she said.

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AP reporter David Eggert, in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.

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