Vermont inmate charged in Shelburne crime dies in Pa. jail

By ELIZABETH HEWITT
VTDIGGER.ORG

A Vermont inmate being held in a Pennsylvania prison died Saturday, according to state corrections officials.

Michael Senna, 63, died at the Camp Hill State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania, Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner Lisa Menard confirmed Monday.

Senna was serving a sentence of 45 to 75 years for three counts of kidnapping. He was arrested on charges of kidnapping three women from a store in Shelburne in 1986, according to court records.

Menard said the state will need to wait for an autopsy to confirm the cause of Senna’s death, but Pennsylvania prison officials do not consider his death to be suspicious. He was in general population at the time of his death, she said.

Amy Worden, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, told the Burlington Free Press that Senna was found unresponsive in his cell during a head count Saturday afternoon.  “Staff immediately provided medical assistance – CPR –  and tried to revive him,” Worden wrote in an email to the Free Press. “EMS was called in but were not successful in reviving him.”

Menard anticipates the results of the autopsy will be available within several weeks.

Senna’s death will be investigated by the Vermont Corrections Department’s health services team, according to Menard.

Vermont Defender General Matt Valerio said his office will also conduct an investigation. However, Valerio said he wasn’t optimistic about the amount of information Vermont investigators might be able to gather about the circumstances of Senna’s death. “Pennsylvania hasn’t been particularly forthcoming when we needed to do other investigations,” he said.

There are currently 229 Vermont inmates held in the Pennsylvania correctional facility.

The prison was on lockdown after a series of staff illnesses linked to an “unknown substance” inside the facility. Menard said Monday she understood the status had changed to a modified lockdown, which allows prisoners slightly more movement.

Over the last two decades, several hundred Vermont inmates have been housed out of state because of a shortage of space in Vermont’s correctional facilities.

After years of contracting with private prison companies, Vermont set up an arrangement to send inmates to the Pennsylvania state corrections system in 2017.

Conditions at the Camp Hill facility however have prompted concerns among prisoners’ rights advocates, observers, and state officials. Three Vermont inmates died in the span of two months last year, with some deaths linked to lack of sufficient medical care.

Vermont officials are in the process of negotiating a new contract to house inmates out of state at different facilities. The two private prisons under consideration for the contract are Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in northwest Mississippi and the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I. State officials have not announced a choice yet.

The Shelburne News contributed to this report.

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