Program helps communities with furloughed inmates

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(Host) The Department of Corrections is launching a new program designed to give towns a greater say when criminal offenders are returned to a community.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Until now, it’s been the job of the Department of Corrections to supervise offenders once they’re released from prison. Soon, it will also be the job of community members.

The Department of Corrections is holding preliminary meetings this month in communities interested in setting up what are called Conditional Reentry Community Panels. Dave Peebles is with the department. Peebles says the panels will let community members know who the offenders are and give them a say in what they’re doing to rebuild their lives:

(Peebles) “The panel, in fact, is a set of relationships that are for the most part, representative of a community where the individual comes from that can not only ask the question of an offender in terms of ‘What’s your plan?’ but that will bring in a lot of other players who are traditionally not a part of a release practice.”

(Zind) Peebles says community panels might vary from town to town and offender to offender. They could be made up of local employers, church leaders, town officials, neighbors of furloughed prisoners, even victims.

He says the panels are an answer to local officials who have long complained that they don’t know enough about furloughed prisoners living in their towns. That’s been a concern of officials Saint Johnsbury. Town Manager Mike Welch says the panels are an improvement over the present way of dealing with returning offenders.

(Welch) “There is no formal requirement for notifying folks around the area when someone is coming back into the neighborhood. There is no reentry plan in terms of any type of reparative service that the individual is going to be providing. There is no participation with the victim, having the victim have a say about how that person comes back into the community, so I think all of those components are new.”

(Zind) Welch says Saint Johnsbury is planning to create mock community panels as a way of discovering how they work. Dave Peebles says the process of establishing panels around the state will take several years.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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