Senate Bill S. 108 was made law Jan.1 2011 with exception of sec. 3 which will become law on its passage. I was very grateful to see these steps being taken to “improve” our justice system by starting down the road to Restorative Justice. The only thing that disappointed me was at the very end of the bill… Its budget. To me it seems that a reform with the intent of not only saving money but reducing repeat offenders will need more funding in order to be successful. I know we are in a recession and the main intent of the bill must be Budget Cuts. Hopefully it does more than that! The following are some highlights of the bill.
“The general assembly finds: From 1996 to 2006, Vermont’s prison population doubled. To accommodate this increase, spending on corrections increased 129% from $48 million in fiscal year 1996 to $130 million in fiscal year 2008. Yet during this time, Vermont’s crime rate remained stable and the state has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. In 2008, the Pew Center on the States estimated that if trends continued, the state prison population would increase 23% by 2018, resulting in additional costs of $82 to $206 million.”
The bill outlines four areas to adjust Justice spending to decrease repeat-offences (starting on page 3)
1. Studies show that intensive supervision and incarceration can actually increase recidivism (repeat offenses) rates for low-risk offenders; thus, identifying exactly who should be the focus of the state’s efforts is critical.
2. Invest in programs that work and ensure that they are working well. Drug treatment both in prison and the community, cognitive-behavioral treatment programs, and intensive community supervision combined with treatment oriented programs have shown to reduce recidivism.
3. Strengthen supervision and deploy swift and certain sanctions. Policymakers should ensure that the offenders most likely to reoffend receive the most intensive supervision, and balance monitoring compliance with participation in programs that can reduce risk to public safety, and respond with immediate, certain, and proportional sanctions.
4. Use place-based strategies that focus on sites where crime is high and there are a concentrated number of people under the supervision of the department.
“Corrections and law enforcement officials are increasingly interested in sharing information that can lead to more effective resource allocation and coordination in these affected neighborhoods to reduce crime and reoffending.” (page 14)
The bill creates a NONVIOLENT MISDEMEANOR SENTENCE REVIEW COMMITTEE “to propose alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-risk misdemeanor offenses.” (details starting on page 11)
“An offender sentenced to a minimum term of fewer than 365 days shall be eligible for furlough (leave of absence)… provided the department has made a determination based upon a risk assessment that the offender poses a low risk to public safety or victim safety and that employing an alternative to incarceration to hold the offender accountable is likely to reduce the risk of recidivism”… (Page 6)
The bill purposes to make more use of the “Home Confinement” law. “Between the date of enactment of the new law—July 1, 2010—and February 28, 2011, home confinement was ordered only 25 times.”
The Bill lays out research to be submitted by jan. 2012 on using employment programs to reduce re-offences (page 17)
The bill asks for a review aimed at a reduction of parole officer’s paperwork “To improve community supervision by getting more probation and parole officers out on the streets, the department of corrections shall undertake a review of the administrative burden placed on field officers and shall reduce paperwork handled by these officers by 50 percent as of July 1, 2012” (page 19)
The bills budget – “There is appropriated in fiscal year 2012 the sum of $4,800.00 …. to evaluate innovative programs and initiatives, best practices, and contemporary research regarding assessments of programmatic alternatives and pilot projects relating to reducing recidivism in the criminal justice system.” and … “$5,600.00 … for the purpose (of) conducting an outcome assessment of Vermont’s two work camps.” and …. “$4,000.00 …. for the purpose of upgrading the Vermont criminal history information”
Another “corrections” issue that needs reforming is the “Halfway House” Detention of Vermont’s Developmentally Disabled, See – Vermont Abusing the “Developmentally Disabled”? and Justice Sleeps – Abuse of the Developmentally Disabled