Administration prepares to reduce prison overcrowding

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(Host) The Douglas administration is getting ready to release a comprehensive plan to reduce overcrowding in the state’s correctional system. As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the proposal will recommend the construction of another work camp and the use of sophisticated technology to monitor inmates outside of the traditional prison setting.

(Kinzel) In August, a special blue-ribbon commission issued a report that outlined two different ways that the state could deal with a correctional system that’s bursting at the seams.

The panel said the state could build three new major jails over the next five years at a cost of $100 million, or it said a number of programs could be put into place to reduce the number of people incarcerated in correctional facilities. The commission concluded that it would be a major mistake for the state to try to build its way out of this problem.

There are roughly 1,600 people incarcerated in Vermont jails and another 400 housed in out of state facilities.

The commission recommended the construction of three additional work camps as a way to provide new space for roughly 300 inmates. Governor Jim Douglas is enthusiastic about building more work camps:

(Douglas) “I think the work camp model is an extremely good one. I’ve had a long commentary from the town manager in St. Johnsbury where the current work camp is located. He’s very high on that project in terms of its ability to make contributions to the community, to non-profit organizations and also to provide an opportunity for the individuals to make a contribution. So I think the work camp model, based on its success and its cost, is something that we ought to pursue.”

(Kinzel) A second proposal would expand the use of GPS, or global positioning satellite technology, to the corrections system. For approximately $3,000 a year, nonviolent inmates could be outfitted with special ankle bracelets that track their movements.

The plan would be to transfer 400 inmates who are currently in prison to this community-based system. This move alone would create enough space to allow the state to bring back the 400 inmates who are being incarcerated at out of state facilities:

(Douglas) “So we’re going to continue to have pressure and to the extent that we can monitor people in a way with GPS bracelet technology, I think that makes a great deal of sense too.”

(Kinzel) The commission also proposed that lawmakers consider changes to the state’s sentencing guidelines law to give judges more discretion to consider options to incarcerating criminals. Douglas says he looks forward to that debate and he’s not ready to endorse the plan at this time.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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