Misdemeanor sentencing may be reviewed

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(Host) Corrections Commissioner Steve Gold says he’ll ask the Legislature in January to review a number of state laws to help determine whether or not people who are convicted of misdemeanors should be sent to prison. Since 1987, Gold says the Legislature has passed or amended more than 80 laws to include prison time for offenders.

Speaking Tuesday night on VPR’s Switchboard program, Gold says more and more of the state’s prison capacity is being filled by people convicted of misdemeanors and he questions if this is the best use of the state’s resources:

(Gold) “We need to take a close look at who we really believe needs to be incarcerated, needs to be behind bars, and who can more appropriately be served in the communities. Certainly the cost element is one element, but we also have to look at where will the individual stand the best chance of getting the services that he or she needs in order to be successful, so that they won’t be re-offending.”

(Host) Gold notes that Vermont leads the country in the development of community based sentencing programs. Roughly 43% of all people sentenced to prison in Vermont actually end up serving their sentence in a supervised community setting. Gold says the recidivism rate for these programs is about 50% lower than the rate for people who are incarcerated in state prisons. Gold thinks these programs offer a better alternative to constructing more and more jail beds in the state:

(Gold) “Historically and currently Vermont has never tried to build its way out of the problem in terms of creating more and more beds to house more and more offenders. Our commitment has been to have by and large, have violent dangerous and repeat offenders in our prison beds and our statistics bear that out.”

(Host) The state will open a new prison in Springfield next month. When the facility is fully operational it will allow the Corrections Department to bring several hundred Vermont inmates who are currently incarcerated in Virginia prisons back to the state.

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