Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice

An act relating to a bill of rights for children of arrested and incarcerated parents (H.273)

Mollie Burke, Susan Hatch Davis, Sarah Edwards, Sandy Haas, and Chris Pearson sponsored H.273, An act relating to a bill of rights for children of arrested and incarcerated parents .This bill proposes to establish a bill of rights for children of parents who are arrested or incarcerated.

An act relating to video contact between incarcerated parents and their minor children (H.225)

Mollie Burke and Sandy Haas sponsored H.225, An act relating to video contact between incarcerated parents and their minor children .This bill proposes to require the Department of Corrections to create a pilot program designed to facilitate simultaneous video contact between incarcerated parents and their minor children and to report on the feasibility of expanding the program statewide.

An act relating to expungement of misdemeanor criminal conviction records (H.22)

Mollie Burke, Susan Hatch Davis, Sarah Edwards, and Chris Pearson sponsored H.22, An act relating to expungement of misdemeanor criminal conviction records .This bill proposes to provide a process for the expungement of a misdemeanor criminal record of arrest, conviction, and sentence for certain misdemeanor offenses.


The "War on Recidivism" bill, S.108, kept the House Corrections and Institutions Committee working late on Good Friday when all others had left for the holiday weekend. The bill passed out of committee as a strike all amendment and will now make it's way to the floor after a stop in the Appropriations committee. It is expected to be brought up for action the week of April 25th.

Currently, no national standard exists for defining recidivism. Vermont's primary method of measuring recidivism is the percent of offenders re-convicted for a new offense within three years. Vermont's rate of recidivism currently stands at 52 percent. However, most states and the Bureau of Justice Statistics use the percent of offenders returned to prison for a new sentence of one year or more or for a revocation of supervision to measure recidivism. So, Vermont includes some offenders in recidivist populations that are not counted in other jurisdictions.

Studies show that intensive supervision and incarceration can actually increase recidivism rates for low-risk offenders; thus, identifying exactly who should be the focus of the states efforts is critical. So, S.108, "An act relating to effective strategies to reduce criminal recidivism", gives the Department of Corrections another "feather in the quiver" to help reduce the rate of recidivism.

To read more about the bill:

Human Trafficking

In the midst of budget crunches and health care redesigns the House took time to try and address one of the more heinous crimes of modern life: human trafficking. This is mainly a problem where women and children are forced into labor or sexual servitude as we've seen in a few high profile news stories in recent years.

One of the main challenges the bill addresses is what to do with these victims since most aren't US citizens. When a victim is identified they go through an initial court procedure and are told to return in a few weeks after the case works it's way through the justice system. Since victims have just been sprung from servitude they have next to no resources or support. Too often they simply disappear. There is no reason to think victims are safe and Vermont is often left without evidence needed to bring perpetrators to justice.

H.153, which passed 131 to 5 (Crawford of Burke, Donaghy of Poultney, Kilmartin of Newport City, Larocque of Barnet, and Lawrence of Lyndon said NO) amends Vermont's criminal statutes to include these crimes and establishes procedures to make sure victims are given support and suitable assistance by immigration officials.

We may not be able to stamp out this grizzly side of humanity but we can be sure Vermont responds appropriately when it surfaces. Currently all but a handful of states already have similar laws on the books. This is a case of better late than never.

The Budget

This past week Gov. Shumlin delivered his first budget recommendation. Since he has summarily dismissed the idea of looking at increasing taxes (even as the wealthiest 5% of Vermonters will enjoy $190 million savings thanks to the extension of the Bush tax cuts), cuts were inevitable.

Consistent with his predecessor, Shumlin proposed that we cut most from the Agency of Human Services - $110 million this year. Most of this money reflects the lack of federal dollars that bailed Vermont out last year. But it signals a troubling set of priorities for a new administration where many have such high hopes.

Particularly troubling is a proposed 5% cut to mental health services. After three years of cuts, Shumlin is asking community mental health agencies to squeeze their budgets even further. This seems as sensible as looking to the homeless to solve our education funding challenges. Also, one of Shumlin's laudable priorities is keeping people out of jail by increasing reliance on diversion. Many who land in corrections suffer from mental health problems, so cutting programs is at odds with the goal of reducing the corrections population.

A lot was made of the changes to Catamount Health Care. From a consumer's point of view, the difference is a big increase in the annual deductible, up from $500 to $1,200. Obviously that is not a good option for low-income Vermonters, but Catamount simply isn't financially sustainable. Shumlin's goal here is to create a decent bridge until the full health care reform effort can be rolled out. Some also wonder if it's his way of illustrating the need for comprehensive reform. Hospitals and doctors are up in arms about the proposed changes to Catamount because their reimbursement rates will drop sharply.

On the plus side he is proposing to fully fund the Housing and Conservation Trust Fund. He also proposes to move early education funding from the ed fund to the general fund. This would give the state greater flexibility to fund early education without relying solely on the property tax.

And, in a great relief to Progressives, Shumlin admits that Challenges for Changes didn't work and we will no longer count on savings that haven’t yet been identified. Having fewer games surface in the budget debate can only help. Even as he suggested we cut human services, he had the decency to avoid saying services won't be impacted. In fact he said exactly the opposite. At least we seem to be entering an era where the discussion happens in a more transparent and straightforward way.

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