Dear Editor, Nitka’s notes from the State House

As we move toward the end (May, 2017) of this first half of the two-year Legislative Session critical policy and budgeting decisions are being made on issues that were not settled in earlier months. The Department of Corrections, the number of out of state prison beds, the cost of beds at different facilities in and out of state, work camps, aging and infirmed prisoners, contraband in prisons, Woodside (our juvenile facility), deteriorating facilities, detainees, arraignments via video conferencing, electronic monitoring, home confinement and multiple other related matters are being worked on in many committees in the building.

The issue of the Southeast State Correctional Center, locally known as Windsor Prison and the turmoil as to its future use is a source of grave concern for the employees working there and the town of Windsor. The cost to house a prisoner at Windsor is the highest in the state so there is a proposal to close it temporarily and repurpose it as another type of facility for corrections that would cost less. There is a proposal that would put three hundred thousand in the budget to start this. Another option is to close it completely and sell the whole parcel exclusive of the approximately 700 acres that has already been turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Department. Many options are being mentioned including mothballing it for a future use.

The surprising part of it is the fact that there are not enough prisoners to continue to run two work camps in the state, the other being in St. Johnsbury. We do have 270 prisoners out of state right now but we’re informed they are not suitable for Windsor due to their high needs. Presently the Dept. of Corrections is in the process of finalizing a new location out of state for them, as their present placement contract is not being renewed. Around the country, the federal government is getting contracts for beds for persons it expects to hold prior to deportation. As the federal government pays more for beds than most states, the options are limited particularly for small states who are not trying to contract for large numbers of beds. It is likely a contract will be for a set number of beds and even if we don’t have enough prisoners to fill them we will then pay for empty beds. We have been getting a lot of calls regarding this issue however the Governor’s Administration handles these contracts, not the Legislature.

As the budget process moves along there are many items not included in the budget that are on what one might call a “wish list” as they have been requested but haven’t been funded. Mental health crisis needs and workers wage increase, 2 million; Vets’ Home, Bennington, $259,000; Courts, opiate caseload, $138,000; National Guard Scholarships, additional $500,000; Court Diversion, pre-trial services, $220,000; Shelters, $200,000; State colleges, four million; Electronic monitoring for prisoners, $969,000; State Police body and car cameras, software, etc. 1.8 million and much more.

Visit the State House, and listen to testimony in the committees on many of the bills. Contact me at home at 802-228-8432 or anitka@leg.state.vt.us. I am able to read all of your e-mails and appreciate you sending them, however the volume received makes it impossible to respond to all of them.

 

Senator Alice Nitka

Montpelier, Vt.

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