Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice

Minor guardianship bill passes House

February 14, 2014; Laura Krantz; VTDigger

House members Thursday afternoon passed a bill that overhauls the legal process for transferring guardianship of a minor to someone other than the parents.

H.581 now goes to the Senate, where family advocates say they will once again fight for changes that didn’t make it into the House version.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sandy Haas, P/D-Rochester, establishes clearer processes for situations in which someone other than the state, such as a grandparent, assumes responsibility for a child.

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Press Release: Auditor finds cost overruns in correctional health care, but contract oversight has improved

MONTPELIER, VT – Spending on health care for in-state prisoners was $4.2 million over budget for the last three years, according to an audit released today by State Auditor Doug Hoffer.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) contracts with Correct Care Solutions (CCS) to operate a comprehensive health care program for inmates housed in-state. Because of the importance and expense of this contract, the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) decided to review the State’s oversight of this contract.

In fiscal year 2012, DOC housed an average daily population of in-state inmates of 1,583, which included both sentenced offenders and detainees. The State budgeted $49.1 million for the three-year contract but eventually paid $53.3 million, including a $4.7 million management fee.

Hoffer noted that, "Since it’s a cost-plus-management fee contract, the state bears the financial risk and the contractor lacks incentive to minimize costs." The audit report stated that DOC’s "cost monitoring was not robust during the earlier years of the contract but has improved since late 2012."

For complex cases involving treatment outside prison facilities, the contract requires CCS to ascertain whether the inmate has health insurance and to pursue collection on the State’s behalf, including from Medicaid if applicable (only for services provided outside the prisons). During the audit, "testing identified one instance in which Medicaid was not billed for an inmate who was hospitalized at a cost to DOC of $84,000." This is important because state funds for Medicaid are matched with federal funds, while the Corrections’ budget is entirely state funds.

The report further stated that, "DOC’s monitoring of CCS’s performance against the contract requirements has been mixed." Based on testing by the audit staff, CCS met some of its performance standards and was deficient in others, with no apparent pattern. Hoffer stated that, "DOC’s failure to levy contractually allowed penalties for two years represented a lost opportunity for the State to offer a monetary incentive for CCS to correct its deficiencies in a timely manner."

Furthermore, the report found that "the lack of timely application of all allowable penalties appears to be due, at least in part, to significant personnel and operational changes at the Department." Hoffer stated that "DOC’s hiring of a new contract monitor in October 2012 has resulted in substantial improvements to both their cost and performance monitoring processes in the past year. Nevertheless, DOC (and all state entities) should plan for such contingencies so that contract oversight will not suffer when personnel changes occur."

Notwithstanding the progress already made, more needs to be done to help ensure that the State is not paying excessive amounts for these services and that the contractor meets the performance standards in the contract. Accordingly, we have offered various recommendations to help reduce DOC’s current costs and improve internal controls, and to reduce its risks in the implementation of health care delivery models under current consideration.

The full report can be found here.

Resolution on Justice for Trayvon Martin

WHEREAS, Trayvon Martin was murdered at point blank range by George Zimmerman for “walking while black” in a neighborhood where Trayvon was staying with his father, after Zimmerman racially profiled and followed Trayvon, despite being told by police to stay in his car;

WHEREAS, the acquittal of George Zimmerman exposes the blatant racism inherent in our judicial system and the effect that racial bias has on prosecutors, juries, and the media;

WHEREAS, African-Americans in similar situations have been convicted and are serving jail sentences for attempting to defend themselves from bodily harm, notably in the case of Marissa Alexander (also of Florida), a victim of domestic violence who was attacked by her husband and fired a bullet into the ceiling; although there was no injury to her attacker, she was given a prison sentence of 20 years;

WHEREAS, the Police Departments of Burlington, South Burlington, UVM and Winooski have participated in data collection on racial disparities in traffic stops since 2009 and a 2012 report on that data concluded there were significant racial disparities in traffic stops, outcomes of stops, arrests and searches;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party condemns the racial biases in our judicial system and at all levels of government and urges our fellow citizens, both those in and out of public office, to ask themselves what they can do to address this ongoing and pervasive problem of racism in our culture;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party urges the Department of Justice to bring federal charges against George Zimmerman;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will work towards ensuring that racial disparities in traffic stops, and in the criminal justice system generally, are eliminated by 2018 by advocating for more training and oversight for police;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will advocate that all school districts be required to produce annual reports on racial disparities in disciplinary actions in the schools, with a goal of ending such disparities by 2018;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will advocate for increased recruitment and hiring of people of color by state and local government and school districts throughout Vermont;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will advocate for increased anti-racism and cultural diversity training for employees of state and local government and school districts throughout the state;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will continue to actively work against racism in our communities, in ourselves, and structural racism in our institutions of education and government.

Adopted August 10, 2013

Black boys denied the right to be young

By Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post, July 15, 2013

Justice failed Trayvon Martin the night he was killed. We should be appalled and outraged, but perhaps not surprised, that it failed him again Saturday night, with a verdict setting his killer free.

Our society considers young black men to be dangerous, interchangeable, expendable, guilty until proven innocent. This is the conversation about race that we desperately need to have — but probably, as in the past, will try our best to avoid.

George Zimmerman’s acquittal was set in motion on Feb. 26, 2012, before Martin’s body was cold. When Sanford, Fla., police arrived on the scene, they encountered a grown man who acknowledged killing an unarmed 17-year-old boy. They did not arrest the man or test him for drug or alcohol use. They conducted a less-than-energetic search for forensic evidence. They hardly bothered to look for witnesses.

Only a national outcry forced authorities to investigate the killing seriously. Even after six weeks, evidence was found to justify arresting Zimmerman, charging him with second-degree murder and putting him on trial. But the chance of dispassionately and definitively establishing what happened that night was probably lost. The only complete narrative of what transpired was Zimmerman’s.

Jurors knew that Zimmerman was an overeager would-be cop, a self-appointed guardian of the neighborhood who carried a loaded gun. They were told that he profiled Martin — young, black, hooded sweatshirt — as a criminal. They heard that he stalked Martin despite the advice of a 911 operator; that the stalking led to a confrontation; and that, in the confrontation, Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the chest.

The jurors also knew that Martin was carrying only a bag of candy and a soft drink. They knew that Martin was walking from a 7-Eleven to the home of his father’s girlfriend when he noticed a strange man in an SUV following him.

To me, and to many who watched the trial, the fact that Zimmerman recklessly initiated the tragic encounter was enough to establish, at a minimum, guilt of manslaughter. The six women on the jury disagreed.

Those jurors also knew that Martin, at the time of his death, was just three weeks past his 17th birthday. But black boys in this country are not allowed to be children. They are assumed to be men, and to be full of menace.

I don’t know if the jury, which included no African Americans, consciously or unconsciously bought into this racist way of thinking — there’s really no other word. But it hardly matters, because police and prosecutors initially did.
 
The assumption underlying their ho-hum approach to the case was that Zimmerman had the right to self-defense but Martin — young, male, black — did not. The assumption was that Zimmerman would fear for his life in a hand-to-hand struggle but Martin — young, male, black — would not.

If anyone wonders why African Americans feel so passionately about this case, it’s because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It’s because we know their adolescent bravura is just that — an imitation of manhood, not the real thing.

We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.

And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?

The conversation we need to have is about how black men, even black boys, are denied the right to be young, to be vulnerable, to make mistakes. We need to talk about why, for example, black men are no more likely than white men to smoke marijuana but nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it — and condemned to a dead-end cycle of incarceration and unemployment. I call this racism. What do you call it?

Trayvon Martin was fighting more than George Zimmerman that night. He was up against prejudices as old as American history, and he never had a chance.

Vermont Gov. Signs Bill Marijuana Decriminalization Bill into Law

June 7, 2013; Phillip Smith; Daily Chronic

MONTPELIER, VT – Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed into law Thursday a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. That makes Vermont the 17th state to decriminalize, including all of its neighboring New England states except New Hampshire.

Introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) and passed with tripartisan support, House Bill 200 removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replaces them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. People under 21 will be required to undergo substance abuse screening.

Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.

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Vermont House considers marijuana decriminalization bill

March 29, 2013; Terri Hallenbeck; Burlington Free Press

Vermont would hardly be in the forefront if it decriminalizes marijuana, Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, lead sponsor of the bill, told the committee. He pointed out that Maine has had such a law since 1976 and New York since 1977.

Pearson said that means those caught with a small amount of marijuana won’t face a lifelong criminal record that could hurt their chances at college loans, jobs and housing.

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