An investigation has concluded that allegations of mistreatment of Vermont inmates at a Michigan prison were exaggerated.
Advocates claimed that a number of inmates were strip-searched and denied food and water during a search for contraband.
Vermont Defender General Matt Valerio said based on those reports, he decided to send a team to Michigan to investigate.
"The main thing is they were there to talk to the inmates to get their perspective on what happened,” Valerio said. “It became readily apparent once they did that the initially reports were significantly exaggerated.”
Valerio said that at first, as many as 30 inmates were reported to have been involved in the incident, but his investigators found that only four were actually involved.
The incident occurred when corrections officers tried to search a cell and the two inmates inside used mattresses to block the door. The officers warned the inmates if they didn’t come out, the officers would use force to get in.
“[The inmates] refused, [the corrections officers] used force, went in, pepper sprayed and took out the two inmates involved in that part of the incident,” Valerio said.
Another inmate broke a sprinkler head which caused water to be shut down to that part of the prison.
“That’s where the lack of water issue comes up, but no one was ever denied water,” Valerio said. “If they wanted water to drink or flush the toilet, they were provided that by guards.”
Aside from cellphones found in the cell, that was the extent of what happened, Valerio said.
Though the incident turned out to be relatively minor, Valerio said it does illustrate a cultural difference in how prisons handle these situations.
“Vermont tends to use techniques to try to deescalate the situation, said Valerio. “The GEO corrections officers were clear about what was going to happen but rather than try to deescalate the situation they went in and used force.”