Nitka’s notes from the Statehouse, March 1, 2019

Dear Editor,

Corrections topics are always an issue in every Legislative Session and sometimes programs that were once in place are dropped and later redesigned and started again. Such is the case with a proposal in S.112, which speaks to “earned good time.”

For nearly 40 years, Vermont had a system of statutory good time that permitted offenders to receive reductions in their sentences for maintaining good behavior and participating in programming while in the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections. The good time system was repealed in 2005. Good time is different from what happens at the prisons that are actually work camps where the offenders work in the community and accrue time off their sentences. Sentence computation, or “prison math” as I like to call it, is a nightmare especially with good time in the mix. Three persons in corrections are assigned to do these calculations and there is another expert who does this I believe at the Prisoners’ Rights office. Sometimes offenders, their attorneys, judges, and others have to contact the office to figure out what a given sentence will actually mean in the end. This might be due to multiple charges, time already served, violations, and the like.

In 2018, a study was done to see if earned good time should be reinstated. Based on the report’s findings, the Commissioner concluded that such a program should be reinstituted for sentenced inmates and individuals on furlough. Good time reduces incarceration costs. It also is “effective at prison population management, has little to no community impact or effect on public safety and has a positive impact on facility control.” The program proposed will be a merit-based system designed to incentivize offenders to participate in activities that prepare them for reentry such as treatment, counseling, education, vocational training, and other requirements specific to their needs.

The average daily population of all prisoners is 1,750. This includes men, 155 women, 232 persons placed out of state in Mississippi, 13 persons on home monitoring, and 400 detainees. There are 14 inmates whose custody level is beyond our capacity to maintain them as we don’t have maximum custody available. They are placed via the Interstate Contract in other states.

Senator Tim Ashe, the President Pro-tempore of the Senate, has “challenged” the Senate to reduce the prison population by 250 inmates. This number was chosen due to the number of inmates placed out of state. One proposal is to have a “criminal out of bounds charge” or the like for persons on furlough who leave their current place of residence without permission and have gone next door for a beer or even drugs but haven’t escaped. Presently, they can be charged with escape, which is a felony. If convicted, they would get much more time in jail while other sanctions might be more appropriate. These persons are a contrast to a true escapee who heads for the border and doesn’t intend to return. There are also persons with mental illnesses in prison who, were another facility available, could be transferred there.

Looking for a job? The Commissioner reported they are trying to recruit 40 correctional officers as this is the number the department is short. Check it out.

Consider visiting your Statehouse and listen to testimony in the committees. Contact me at home at 802-228-8432 or the Statehouse at 1-800-322-5616 or anitka@leg.state.vt.us. I am able to read all of your emails and appreciate you sending them; however the volume received makes it impossible to respond to all of them.

Sincerely,

Sen. Alice Nitka

Windsor County

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