Corrections considers options to cut budget

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(Host) The Department of Corrections is under pressure to trim its budget by $4 million dollars.

Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann says one option is closing a prison and sending more prisoners out of state.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The corrections budget is now about $130 million — that’s up 74 percent in just seven years. Commissioner Hofmann said the budget continues to climb faster than other state programs despite Vermont’s relatively low crime rate.

(Hofmann) "So how has that come about? It’s basically more people are… staying in prison longer. So we are getting tougher on crime, and there’s a cost to that.."

(Dillon) Faced with this trend, the Legislature ordered the Corrections Department to trim its budget by $4 million dollars. As Hofmann pointed out, that won’t mean an actual cut of $4 million, but a $4 million reduction in the growth of the budget.

Hofmann says there are no easy choices.

(Hofmann) "Almost all of the ideas that are in this report are going to offend someone."

(Dillon) The 130-page report lists several options for closing the least cost-effective prisons and expanding those that are more efficient.

The prisons that could be closed include the Dale facility in Waterbury that houses female inmates.

Cost data from the Corrections Department shows that Dale is the most expensive to run, with cost of about $67,000 for each inmate.

Bennington Senator Dick Sears, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he hopes the legislature considers closing Dale. He said the cost of one bed at Dale equals the cost of six scholarships at the University of Vermont.

(Sears) "I don’t know how we can justify operating — whether it’s $70,000 or $67,000 per bed facility — that doesn’t provide something in specialized treatment…"

(Dillon) Other options include closing prisons in Windsor and St. Albans, expanding prison work camps and sending more prisoners out of state. 

Hofmann said no one option can provide the entire $4 million dollars in savings.

He said the state could save money by releasing prisoners as soon as they reach their minimum sentences. But he said he would not recommend that option, because of the potential threat to public safety.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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