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Legislative update: breaking down the Justice Center's report

Our Institutions Committee has hit the ground running in our first week of this session. The Capital Bill usually starts on the House side and goes to the Senate Institutions Committee at Town Meeting, cross-over time. This year we are clearing our calendar for the first part of the session and diving right into work with Corrections and the report we have received from the Council of State Governments. The Senate will take on the Capital Bill immediately after the Governor announces his budget on Jan. 22 and the House will get it after Town Meeting. This year presents an important window of opportunity for making substantial changes and improvements in Corrections. Several Corrections reports from summer study and oversight committees are coming out. We have a commitment and teaming from all three branches of government. Vermont Supreme Court Justice Reiber, Speaker Symington, Senator Shumlin, and Governor Douglas jointly addressed stakeholders and the media last week. It was a follow up to this springs announcement of the study and oversight committees charge. Some of the information from the Council of State Governments Justice Centers report states that, in Vermont, from 2000 to 2005, the number of people admitted to prison for felony offenses increased by nearly 60 percent. Property and drug offenders accounted for over half of the increase in the felony prison population between 2000 and 2006. According to the Councils report, people who are incarcerated and on community reintegration, who have a substance use disorder are not receiving treatment. This is due to: * Judges who do not routinely have access to substance abuse assessments for individuals when making sentencing decisions. * The majority of people (77 percent) sentenced for a property or drug felony has a substance use disorder: they need treatment to reduce their likelihood of reoffending. Only 13 percent of those incarcerated who need treatment are in a treatment program. * Two-thirds of property and drug offenders in need of substance abuse treatment report having received mental health treatment in the past. * More than half of property and drug offenders (55 percent) report being frequently unemployed prior to their incarceration. * Upon release from prison, people in need of substance abuse treatment are not always connected to appropriate levels of treatment in the community. Some of the recommendations from the report for policy options are to expand use of community-based treatment programs for people with substance abuse problems, put property and drug offenders in work camps with substance abuse treatment and vocational training programs, ensure that people on conditional reentry are connected to treatment upon release, reduce failures on probation by creating incentives for good behavior, and ensure that reintegration status in utilized whenever appropriate. The meat of this report shows that instead of investing in prison beds, we can invest in programming that is cheaper, more effective, longer lasting and more humane. Conservative estimates show that these reforms could save Vermonters a net of $50 million over a ten-year period of time. Some of these savings will be realized very soon after being implemented while others will build over time. These recommendations and approach are seen as long-term solutions and not quick, band-aid fixes. The success rates are much higher and better for the individual as well as society. I will keep you updated as we proceed. As always, I look forward to hearing from you and am available at 985-8515, or e-mail jglenes@aol.com . Both Joyce and I are at Brueggers Bagel each Tuesday morning from 7:30-8:45am. Please stop by when you can.

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