Saturday, May 31, 2008

It Passed!

Legislation that I’ve been working on for the past three years became law this month.

It’s a prison reform measure that will save millions of dollars for Vermonters, improve community safety, and avert us from sending hundreds of inmates out of state (and our dollars with them).

It's been heralded as one of the defining pieces of legislation for the year. As it should be, especially given the context of Vermont's crime and prison outlook.

Vermont has a low and declining rate of crime, yet we continue to lock up more and more people, many for non-violent offenses. Despite the countless studies that demonstrate more cost-effective ways to deal with crime, Vermont government still needlessly spends tens of millions of dollars in added costs each year. But that’s going to start changing in a dramatic way. The new law, called Justice Reinvestment, will provide more alternatives to incarceration than we currently have by investing in drug and alcohol treatment programs, transitional housing, and community-based solutions.

It aims to reduce recidivism -- known as repeat customers to the prison system -- and is estimated to save, in reduced prison costs alone, $50-to-$200 million dollars over ten years. That’s some long-term planning and benefits that are well overdo. Justice Reinvestment seed money will come from the reorganization ofour prisons. The savings produced from Justice Reinvestment plus the prison reorganization savings will fuel not only further investments inalternatives to incarceration, it will provide tens of millions ofdollars left over to benefit tax-payers.

The key to the success of this effort stemmed from how we approached it from the get-go. Knowing that there were potential political landmines, we started out by involving not only all three political parties in Vermont, but also by involving all three branches of government --judicial, executive, and legislative. That’s extremely unusual inVermont. The end-result was a comprehensive bill that had overwhelming support.

Investing in alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders will not only save us millions, it will also make our communities safer.

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At July 03, 2008 12:18 PM, Anonymous Children's Literacy Foundation said...

In a recent study it was shown that recidivism is also reduced when there is regular contact between inmates and their children, moreover, children who maintain contact with their incarcerated parents face fewer behavioral and social problems. At the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF), a nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading and writing among children throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, we work with inmates and their families to help increase their bond, and to help break the cycle of low literacy that plagues 70% of current inmates.

CLiF holds storytelling presentations in the prisons on visiting days for inmates and their children, donates on-site children’s book libraries for prison waiting rooms so families can read together, and holds literacy seminars for inmates that teach the importance of reading with their children. CLiF is also a supporter of prison Storybook Programs, in which an inmate reads a book on tape and then sends the tape and the book home to their child/children. CLiF helps inmates with their storytelling technique and provides the books used in the programs.

After a recent CLiF seminar, a mother of two wrote to her incarcerated husband, “I wanted you to know that those tapes with the books that you sent to our kids are the MOST meaningful gift you’ve ever thought of doing. Angela heard it five times the first night and yesterday she heard it twice. Now she wants to listen to her brother’s tape.”

For more information about CLiF’s work in prisons, please visit

At July 08, 2008 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to seeing how your creative "savings to the taxpayer" math works out in the real world.

At September 12, 2008 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alternatives to incarceration? Like what?

How about restitution to the victims of crime, the taxpayers for the expense and the rest of society for their negative influence?

How about turning the DOC into a semi/fully self sufficient or heaven forbid, profitable department by being productive with the incarcerated? You said yourself they are in desperate need of direction. Give them the choice to earn their way out of prison for actual WORK performed while incarcerated.

All your plan seems to do is reward something for nothing on top of a bad deed.

Is there a lesson there somewhere?

At October 31, 2008 8:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Criminals plea bargaining with prosecutors to turn criminal charges into misdemeanors with no jail time does not count as a "declining crime rate." There's a lot more crime in Vermont than there ever used to be - especially a lot more crime sprees. Meanwhile, the murder rate seems to be increasing lately, as well.

Our prisons are not filling up with non-violent criminals - they're filling up because we're a small state with a poor economy, high cost of living, and crushing tax burden (which diverting money to other uses isn't going to stop). Meanwhile there's plenty of thugs walking the streets - I know of one person who has committed two crimes (and been arrested) including theft, and yet he never seems to go away for long, nor does he seem the type to "reform". Meanwhile society will also be paying for his child who probably was born in the last month or so - his wife is likely going to be supported by welfare when he finally goes off to jail, and she'll be spending it on the same alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee that she was consuming while pregnant. Where's your solution for that expense?

These feelgood measures might sound good to some people, but to those with common sense, we know all your legislation will do is lead to more physical assaults, thieves, and drunk drivers on the streets of Vermont.


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