Mayors Criticize Prison Furlough Policies

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(Host) The mayors of Rutland and Barre City are accusing the Corrections Department of “dumping” a large number of furloughed inmates into their communities to ease crowding in the state’s prison system.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Over the course of this year, roughly 1,500 inmates will be released on furlough from Vermont’s correctional system. In addition, another 2,000 people will be sentenced to furlough by judges because these individuals are deemed to be a good risk for community-based programs.

While the Corrections Department views the furlough program as a cost effective alternative to building more jail space, some communities are raising serious concerns about the program. Barre City Mayor Harry Monti thinks the state is placing too many furloughed people in his community.

According to the Corrections Department, 50% of all people on furlough will be sent back to jail because they will violate the conditions of their program.

Mayor Monti says this situation is affecting the quality of life for residents of Barre, and Monti is very upset that there is no supervision of people on furlough between midnight and 8 a.m.:

(Monti) “And those people know that there is no supervision. They can do anything they want after 11 o’clock at night. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out – I can get in trouble after midnight. I can do anything I want, because there is no one watching me. Don’t you think that’s a concern to my community? I think it is.”

(Kinzel) Rutland Mayor John Cassarino came to the Statehouse recently to echo the concerns of officials from Barre City:

(Cassarino) “What it does is put a great deal of strain on our people down there: our services, our Police Department. Every day there is a violation, our police have to come in and back up the correctional officers. We’re finding out that people right now are not being violated. Probably should be, but because there’s no room for them in the prisons – I mean it’s really a Catch 22.”

(Kinzel) Corrections Commissioner John Gorczyk notes that the number people under the jurisdiction of his department has grown by at least 10% in each of the last 10 years. And Gorczyk says community-based programs need to be part of the state’s overall strategy:

(Gorczyk) “At some point I think we have to at least stop, pause and look at what’s happening here. Are we producing the kinds of outcomes for the state that we want? That make sense in the long term and that we can afford to sustain? And I think that’s the question that’s on the table here this legislative session.”

(Kinzel) Gorczyk says one of the key reasons that he wants to close down the Woodstock prison at the beginning of March is because this action will allow him to transfer 18 correctional officers over to community-based programs.

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

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