Senate approves bill aimed at slowing growth of Vt's corrections budget

03/19/08 4:51PM By Bob Kinzel
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(Host) The Senate has approved legislation that's aimed at slowing down the growth of Vermont's corrections budget.

The legislation restructures the state's corrections system and puts more money into programs for non violent inmates.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) For a number of years, the state Corrections budget has been growing by more than 10% a year. Vermont now spends more money on its jail system than on higher education.

Senate Judiciary chairman Dick Sears says this trend has to be changed:

(Sears) "My hope is that this bill will begin us on a path of changing the dynamic regarding corrections and that is that we begin to provide the treatment and other things necessary to begin to increase public safety by not having the recidivism rates that we currently have which are over 50%."

Sears says some dramatic steps are needed because the growth in the Corrections Budget is making it difficult to fund other important state programs:

(Sears) "The cost of one bed at Dale Correctional facility here in Waterbury for one year is equivalent to 6 Vermont students getting full tuition at the University of Vermont which is the better investment that Vermonters really want to make?"

Under the bill, the Dale Correctional facility for female inmates in Waterbury would be closed and these individuals would be moved to a renovated facility in St. Albans. Female inmates currently housed in Windsor would also be sent to St. Albans.

The Windsor facility will then be turned into a second work camp for male inmates.

This restructuring will result in roughly 135 fewer jail beds in the state. The savings from this reduction will be used to fund new community based substance abuse and structured housing programs for non-violent offenders.

Corrections commissioner Rob Hofmann says providing these services will free up jail space and make it less likely that these individuals will re-offend in the future. The goal is to cut the recidivism rate for non-violent offenders by 10%:

(Hofmann)"Because they're coming back to our communities one way or another and the question is if they're less likely to fall into drugs and alcohol and give in to their addictions they're going to be safer in our communities same thing...if they're coming back to the community anyway to the degree that they have structured housing they're going to be more stable and less likely to re-offend against our families and our communities."

State officials estimate that it will take about year to fully put this plan into place. The measure will now be considered in the House.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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