Pallito supports restoration of community liaison committee
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | January 14,2014
Photo by Len Emery
Vermont Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito speaks Monday at a meeting of the Springfield Rotary Club.
SPRINGFIELD — Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito said Monday the state supports resuming a community liaison committee with the town of Springfield dealing with issues at the state prison in Springfield.
Pallito, speaking at the Springfield Rotary Club, spoke in support of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s plan to put more emphasis on treatment for substance abusers rather than jail sentences. Shumlin’s State of the State address last week focused entirely on the opiate abuse problem facing the state.
Pallito, who was first appointed corrections commissioner by former Gov. James Douglas six years ago, said the Springfield prison, which opened in 2004, had become a “transportation hub” for inmates leaving the state for out-of-state prisons and for those out of state who are returning to Vermont.
In addition, he said, the elderly population in Vermont’s prisons — anyone older than 50, he said — would likely be at the Springfield prison because of what Pallito said was a “state-of-the-art” infirmary. Last month, Howard Godfrey, 67, a convicted murderer from Kirby, died at the Springfield prison from what officials called a pre-existing medical condition.
Pallito said the per capita costs for inmates in Vermont ranged between $55,000 and $57,000 a year. He said because Vermont has seven community prisons, rather than one big prison, costs are higher.
Bob Flint, executive director of the Springfield Regional Development Corp., questioned Pallito why a once-promised vocational building was never built at the Springfield prison.
Pallito said the extra costs of building an access road up a steep incline to the prison site had wiped out the budget for the vocational building when the prison was built. But he said he supported having vocational activities for the inmates. “Four hundred people have a lot of idle time,” he said.
Flint also questioned why the prison’s community liaison committee had been dropped, about a year after the prison opened.
The prison received its first inmate in October 2003. Construction had started in 2002 after years of negotiations with Springfield town officials about hosting the state’s maximum-security prison.
According to Town Manager Bob Forguites, the original committee was “very active” with a lot of feedback from the town residents on the new prison. “Basically, we were telling them how to run the prison,” he said. The committee was discontinued shortly afterward, he said.
The prison, which is off Interstate 91 on a hill out of sight, houses about 400 inmates and is one of seven prisons in the state. It is the state’s newest prison, and it’s where some of Vermont’s most serious criminals are sent.
Inmates with long sentences are generally shipped out of state to facilities in Kentucky.
Kristi Morris, chairman of the Springfield School Board, later told Pallito that the public perception in Springfield was that crime had gone up in town since the prison opened.
Morris said personally he didn’t believe the prison was the reason for the increase, but that was a complaint he heard in town.
“Obviously, substance abuse is ramping up and petty crime with it,” Morris said. “Heavy crimes,” such as murder, sexual assault and bank robbery, are still rare, he said.
“I think he is trying to be as open as he can be,” Morris said after Pallito’s talk.