Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice

Sex Offender Registry Audit

This week, the Corrections and Institutions Committee heard testimony from the Auditors office regarding their audit of Vermont's Sex Offender Registry (SOR). The SOR contains information regarding the names, addresses, convictions, risks and treatment information on offenders who have been convicted of sex offenses. Currently, for those offenders that meet the criteria set forth in 13 VSA 5411a, a portion of the SOR data is posted to a public (Internet registry) website. Act 58 in 2009, included legislation for the placement of offender addresses to be included on the Internet registry, but because this subset of the database is "public facing", the reliability of the data is crucial. So, before placing the sex offender addresses on the internet, the legislature required the state auditor, in consultation with the department of information and innovation technology and the department of public safety to provide a favorable performance audit of the SOR's reliability and controls.

In testimony from the auditors office, we heard that a sizable number of serious errors were found, in part due to the mostly manual process to submit and enter the data. In addition, controls were not always consistently applied or documented. So,the report includes recommendations to improve the SOR's data reliability and controls.The auditors office also recommended that the divisions in state government that they reviewed, form a working group charged with looking at the current system and possibly redesign the processes, a process that would also include system solutions to more efficiently and effectively enter the data into the Sex Offender Registry database.

The report can be found at: http://auditor.vermont.gov/sites/auditor/files/Final_SOR_report.pdf

Legislative Update: Working Across Silos

For years we have worried about the “silos” in state government – the competing missions of different departments that are duplicative at best and often counterproductive. One of the Douglas administration’s first initiatives was to reorganize the Agency of Human Services, collapsing some departments, and moving functions around. Job titles changed, but the silos remain.

With a new administration comes hope for a fresh look. As Secretary of AHS, Doug Racine is urging his staff to find all opportunities to collaborate across department lines. He also urged us in the Legislature to overcome the silos created by our own committee structure, which divides our work into areas of jurisdiction. With Governor Shumlin’s focus on reducing our prison population, the area that most cries out for collaborative problem solving is the rehabilitation of offenders. Although the Department of Corrections is part of AHS, its culture is much different from the social service culture of the mental health, drug treatment and job-training providers who must be partners in directing offenders toward productive lives. The Human Services Committee is working to bring representatives of all these players into the room together so they can clearly hear each others' concerns and move forward in concert.

Tasers in Vermont

Let's do a thought experiment. Imagine that your local police chief rose at Town Meeting to request the purchase of a new weapon. It would, he said, help prevent use of deadly force or injury to officers, but it also caused electrocution of suspects in some cases-- rarely, but unpredictably.

The new weapon would make policing safer and easier, he said, though it did pose a greater risk of injury to suspects, as well as in-custody death. And it would save the town money in workmen compensation costs, though in some cases towns did face lawsuits for excessive use of force by police, and they sometimes paid settlements to those arrested.

When the Chief concluded, your neighbors asked a few pertinent questions. How much deadly force did the local police use in a year? And how many officer injuries and workmen compensation claims were there anyway? All the numbers were pretty low, it seemed, but the request stood. And here's the experiment: Given all these facts, would you vote to spend local tax money on the new weapon?

When it comes to Tasers, Vermonters have not been given the choice. The thoughtful Town Meeting scenario above is just as it sounds—imaginary.

Progressive Thought: Burlington Ballot Initiative to Legalize Marijuana

Grassroots Vermont activist Ryan Mead discusses the Burlington ballot initiative to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana on Progressive Thought with host Richard Kemp.

Affirming Immigrants and Protesting Profiling

Councilor Marrisa Caldwell and I were the lead sponsors of a Burlington City Council resolution opposing Arizona's immigration law, SB 1070. The resolution was submitted to affirm that Burlington values immigrants in our community and elsewhere, oppose the Arizona law that leads to legalizing racial profiling, and call for the federal government to enact humane and comprehensive immigration law reform. The resolution also calls on the city to enact a partial boycott to prevent the city from entering new contracts or amending existing contracts with Arizona based companies when possible (i.e. when it does not cost additional money to take our business elsewhere) and to prevent city employees from traveling to Arizona for city business until the law is repealed.

Economic boycotts have been used successfully over history such as the bus boycotts during the civil rights movement and the grape boycotts during the 60s and 80s to demand better treatment of migrant farm workers. The resolution passed 10-4 on Monday night. The Burlington School Board will take up the resolution at its July meeting. The resolution has already passed the School Board's policy committee. I am glad the council and hopefully the school board took the lead in joining a growing list of cities in the U.S. to call on Arizona to repeal its law and to push our federal government to address our broken immigration system.

Challenges for Change Response

If you are like me, I am troubled by the city council's vote last night on the Phoenix House issue. For those who are unaware of the issue, the council voted to appeal the Act 250 permit for Phoenix House to locate a group home for Vermonters in recovery from drugs/alcohol. There are a number of legal problems with this appeal (possible fair housing legal violations, possibly missing the filing deadline for an appeal, etc). And more importantly, there are more problems with some councilors' general statements to try to prevent this type of program from locating in Burlington. Instead of having a constructive conversation about how to address the needs of these Vermonters and the impact on our community, it became a destructive conversation filled with negative assumptions about recovering addicts and fear.

As an attempt to be proactive vs. reactive and to start a constructive conversation on the impact of state budget cuts on our city, I am introducing this resolution at the next council meeting on Monday May 24th. If you are interested in getting more involved and/or helping to strategize the effective passage and implementation of this task force, please let me know.

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