Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility

MacKenzie Murdoch, center, of Burlington attends a protest to demand more accountability and transparency from the Department of Corrections concerning the inmates at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington on Sunday, March 24.

A group of former inmates and activists gathered outside Vermont’s only women’s prison Sunday to call for the release of inmate grievance records.

There have been 1,444 complaints filed by inmates since January 2018 at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility on Farrell Street, all of which are currently being blocked from public release. VTDigger has sought the records in response to complaints about lack of medical treatment and staff misconduct at Chittenden Regional. The Department of Corrections has refused to provide the documents citing inmate privacy concerns.

Protesters gathered with signs and megaphones outside the facility Sunday to argue that these grievances should be made public so that people on the outside can understand the conditions inmates are forced to endure. The activists say the women’s prison should be closed permanently.

For Amanda Sorrell, who has been in and out of CRCF “close to 10 times,” the protest was the first time she’d voluntarily been back to the facility. She said just being there makes her uncomfortable.

“I’ve never seen this sort of abuse and aggressive behavior, lack of everything — services, air, food, access to our families, access to each other,” Sorrell said. “This place scares the sh*t out of me … we need to do something and we need to do it now.”

Sorrell said she’s not only been denied access to grievance records she filed while held at Chittenden Regional, but she’s also been denied access to portions of her medical records, which has made it difficult for her to get the treatment she needs on the outside.

Dylen Hathaway, a transgender man who was incarcerated at CRCF, said he faced many trans-specific struggles inside the facility. He said he had to argue to be allowed men’s undergarments and binders for his chest, and often faced inappropriate questions and intentional misgendering from prison guards.

“I was treated differently than most,” Hathaway said. “The inmates were really supportive, some of the officers were not… There definitely needs to be more support for trans people.”

A slew of other complaints raised by inmates were mentioned, including a lack of clean air, adequate outdoor recreation time, working plumbing, regular access to counseling and female officers.

Rep. Selene Colburn, P-Burlington, said the criminal justice system in Vermont disproportionately impacts people of color, people who are struggling with poverty and people who have histories of trauma.

“We need people working inside this system and outside this system to make it better,” Colburn said. “And as someone who’s working in a sometimes inhospitable environment — the Legislature — to make those changes, I need you to be putting pressure on all of us to make those changes.”

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