BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – In 2022, 9 inmates died in Vermont prisons. The Vermont Department of Corrections categorizes them as natural deaths, unexplained causes, and suicides.
We spoke to the Commissioner who said that incidents of self-harm are also a cause for concern.
Commissioner Nick Deml, of Vt. Department of Corrections, says “We see people who have been through a lot of trauma in their lives, often have a substance abuse problem that has a mental health problem.”
And some of that, according to Deml, comes from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We locked people down for a long time because we needed to protect people, but the isolation was difficult. We cut back on visits, we had less entertainment, and it all came back,” said Deml.
Inmate deaths in Vermont’s prisons remain low year-over-year, averaging 5 per year over the past decade. Of the people who died, only 5 committed suicide.
The number of prisoners who intend to kill themselves or intentionally injure themselves is very high. According to the Department of Corrections, self-harm incidents are categorized as self-injury, low, low, and fatal. Examples include shortness of breath, palpitations, and ulcers.
In terms of words, these numbers show a significant increase in 2020, almost double the number of 2019. Since then, the numbers have dropped to 393 in 2021 and 258 in 2022. Both years are below the five-year average of about 450.
“Finding mental health professionals is difficult, but at this point we are calling for our medical alliance, and the goal is to create a new alliance that focuses on mental health,” says Deml.
Along with this, the Department of Corrections has partnered with the Defender General’s office to develop strategies to address the potential problem in Vermont’s prisons.
Vermont Defender General Matt Valerio says, “Watching happens to every person who comes in, and there are times when you’re more at risk of harming yourself than not. That’s where the focus is, and it’s at the forefront, whether you’re in custody or you’re serving a sentence.”
Valerio says the liaison committee is finalizing its final report.
The Department of Evangelism says it is also working to process complaints and move to an online monitoring system.
Copyright 2023 WCAX. All rights reserved.