House approves prison overcrowding legislation

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(Host) The Vermont House has given its strong approval to legislation that’s designed to ease overcrowding in Vermont’s prison system.

One of the goals of the bill is to significantly reduce number of Vermont inmates who are incarcerated out of state.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Backers of the legislation say the bill is needed to insure that Vermont’s prison system is used to house the state’s most violent criminals.
It achieves this goal by expanding community based programs for non-violent offenders.

Currently there are several hundred inmates being held in prison because the state doesn’t have enough transitional housing available. The bill addresses this problem by creating a new expanded pilot housing project in the Rutland region.

The legislation also utilizes new electronic bracelets using global positioning units, to monitor inmates to insure that the offenders don’t violate their conditions of release. Community based supervision and safety programs would also receive additional funding under the bill.

Institutions chairperson Alice Emmons says the legislation implements some important changes.

(Emmons) “The bill aims to address overcrowding in our prison system. It helps offenders re-enter society in a more successful way. And it keeps our communities safe as we make these changes.”

(Kinzel) The legislation also eliminates so called
“good time” for future inmates.

Hartford Rep. Michael Kainen is the vice chair of the House Judiciary committee. Kainen says good time has become an administrative nightmare because the state operates at least 5 different systems to reduce sentences. In addition, Kainen says a 2001 law prohibits inmates from using “good time” to reduce their minimum sentence. It can be used only to reduce the maximum sentence.

Kainen says “good time” will be replaced with a program that will furlough an inmate into a community-based program when they reach the last three months of their sentence.

(Kainen) ” which would allow the commissioner of Corrections to expand the walls of the correctional facility. And there’s a good reason for doing that. Many offenders who are in jail go from the very structured environment of being in a jail, where what they can do is monitored 24-hours-a-day, to being out in the open on parole.”

(Kinzel) Because the legislation is different from a proposal that passed the Senate last month, a conference committee will be appointed to work out a compromise.

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

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