Vermont to investigate women's prison after newspaper report

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Gov. Phil Scott is promising the state will investigate conditions in Vermont's only women's prison after a newspaper article described sexual misconduct and drug use involving inmates and correctional officers.

Speaking at a Thursday news conference in Montpelier, Scott said Human Services Secretary Michael Smith would be looking into the allegations about conditions at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington.

“We are taking this very seriously,” Scott said. “Ï guarantee we will get to the bottom of it. It's unacceptable."

Scott said he hoped the preliminary investigation wouldn't take long.

Scott's comments came a day after the weekly newspaper Seven Days reported what it described as credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault by more than a dozen officers since Chittenden became a women's prison in 2011.

In some cases, correctional officers have pursued sexual relationships with women who have left prison but remain under supervision by the Department of Corrections, the newspaper reported. A number of the officers have been prosecuted, a few have served time, but others have been acquitted.

The newspaper also reported allegations that one officer used drugs on duty.

“If any of what has been reported is true, we have a problem," Smith said Wednesday.

On Thursday, Attorney General T.J. Donovan called the claims in the Seven Days article “deeply disturbing” and offered to assist the Agency of Human Services in investigating the claims.

“This investigation needs to commence immediately, and it needs to be thorough and transparent," Donovan said.