Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Save lives by reducing Vermont’s prison population

In addition to the dangers, deprivations, and worries we now face with the COVID-19 pandemic, our fellow Vermont citizens who are in prison have additional risks and vulnerabilities. So I wish to add my voice, as a retired community psychiatrist, to the law enforcement, medical, and legal experts — including the Vermont ACLU — who are appealing to the Scott administration and the Department of Corrections (DOC) to continue efforts to reduce the incarcerated population in ways that consider the safety of the public as well as the health needs of those now under DOC supervision.
We have already learned of illness and positive coronavirus tests among residents and employees at several sites of the Department of Corrections. Transmission of this highly contagious infection is made very likely due to the lack of interpersonal space and other means of minimizing transmission in a corrections facility. Reduced numbers would reduce the risk, which includes dangers to the staff, their families, and their local communities. It would also be extremely helpful to have a major increase in testing for the virus among staff, those incarcerated, and the local communities, as many health experts have advocated.
Those who could be released include some at the end of their sentences, elders, and those with medical problems that could be addressed by “medical furlough,” and any who need treatment for addiction disorders. I believe that we can trust the good sense, compassion, and carefulness of those who would be in a position to make decisions about those who could be released with such guidelines. This is an opportunity to save some lives, most likely, and reduce risks of more serious illnesses. 
Marjorie L. Carsen, M.D. (retired)
Bristol

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