Crime and Justice

Prison officials investigate 4th death of incarcerated person in Vermont this year

Southern State Correctional Facility
Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

A White River Junction man was found dead in his cell at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield Thursday morning, according to state corrections officials, marking the fourth prison fatality in Vermont this year.

The Department of Corrections and Vermont State Police each said they were investigating the death of Matthew Castellini, 35, as a suspected suicide. 

The latest death further prompted the Vermont Defender General’s office to work with corrections officials to determine what “factual similarities” they can find among the four cases.

“This is a joint effort between my office and the department,” Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio said Thursday, “to see if we can find some commonality among the deaths.” 

Castellini was found unresponsive by corrections staff in his cell at about 6 a.m. Thursday, according to a press release issued Thursday afternoon by the corrections department.

“Correctional and medical staff first responders began life-saving efforts and called for outside medical assistance,” officials said in the release. “Castellini was pronounced deceased at the facility.”

The official cause of death will be determined following an autopsy by the Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Valerio said Thursday he had reached out to Nicholas Deml, who was appointed corrections department commissioner last fall, about the recent deaths. They agreed to meet along with staff for a “collaborative” look at what they can learn from the recent deaths to help prevent others, Valerio said.

“The department is clearly getting individuals with mental health issues that are beyond the normal capacity of the department to handle,” Valerio said, speaking generally.

Valerio said Castellini was a detainee held on an assault and robbery charge for lack of $3,000 bail, and had been in custody since December. 

“There are questions that are raised to me why someone is held on $3,000 bail,” Valerio said. “Vermont has driven a lot of bail bondsmen out of state. We used to have three or four. I don’t know if you can even find a bondsman.” 

In a typical case, Valerio said, a person would need to put up only 10% of their total bail amount if they go to a bail bondsperson.

The corrections department reported in its news release that Castellini had been lodged at the Springfield prison since Dec. 21 on a violation of probation charge and “was also facing new unadjudicated charges.”

Earlier this month, Dustin Dunkling, 29, of St. Albans, died by an apparent suicide at the St. Johnsbury prison, state police reported at the time.  

Raymond Gadreault, 73, died at the Springfield prison in February, with state police reporting he died from natural causes.

Michael Cornell, 34, died on New Year’s Day at the Newport prison from an accidental drug overdose, according to his death certificate.

Vermont State Police and the Defender General’s prisoners’ rights office will also conduct separate reviews into Castellini’s death, in conjunction with an internal review by the corrections department, which will include administrative and medical reviews.

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