Week 12 : April 2nd to April 5th

Pause to Regroup

Work in Committee took a pause this week. With our Capital Bill happily in the Senate, and the Big Bill (the state budget) also out of the House, my committee began looking into the various bills that have been referred to us.

The screen shot shows the Legislature web-page for bills we must consider. We'll take a look at each and decide whether or not to "take it up." That means we take it seriously and call in people for testimony.

There really aren't many for Corrections & Institutions. If you stroll into other committee rooms you'll see bulletin boards with a slip of paper for each bill that has been assigned to that committee. Some have quite a few.

Good Time

Good Time is a Corrections policy. Should an inmate's sentence be shortened if s/he is a model prisoner? Earned Good Time is a variation: Should an inmate have time taken off their sentence because they completed the GED or a program on substance abuse? We are considering both good time and earned good time.

The Senate handed us a bill (S.112) that basically says: bring back good time and earned good time and let the Department of Corrections (DOC) figure out the details and report back.

We are frequently told that the Senate works in broad strokes. Each Senator (there's only 30 of them) is on two committees. They don't have the time to really look into the issues and details. Now I believe it. When one starts really considering Good Time and the implications of same, things rapidly get complicated.

Vermont used to have Good Time, but the Truth in Sentencing movement wiped it out. Victims complained that a sentence doesn't really mean much if it can be reduced so easily. Tracking the Good Time was also an administrative nightmare. For all but the work camp up in St. Johnsbury there is no more Good Time in Vermont Corrections. But it does have several valuable uses.

  • Behavior management - Inmates are rewarded for the good things they do and the programs they complete.
  • Reducing recidivism - Inmates who complete programs and follow the rules are less likely to return to incarceration.
  • Reduced population - Getting inmates out early reduces the number incarcerated. Saves money.

But there are many considerations:

  • Should it be retro-active? If completing a course results in a reduction of 30 days off the inmates minimum sentence, should we look back and give a 30-day reduction to everyone who completed a course during their stay?
  • Should an inmate be rewarded for doing only what is required?
  • How do we track the ever-changing sentences?
  • What happens if an inmate starts a program in anticipation of a reduced sentence and is then moved to a facility that does not offer that program?
  • How do we remove the subjectivity that gives Corrections Officers too much power and may create conflicts? If a Corrections Officer is able to award Good Time for good behavior, the definition of 'good behavior' has to be very clear.
  • How is re-entry programming effected? There are program an inmate must complete prior to being released. That programming begins a specific number of days prior to release. Will Good Time result in confusion as to when to start that programming? Or will it cut that programming short?

In the coming weeks we will be working on all this, trying to shape some legislation that will allow DOC to use the benefits of Good Time without messing things up too badly.

Government ID

Another issue we have taken up is the issuance of a valid government ID. If an inmate leaves a prison with no valid government ID, it's tough, if not impossible, to get a loan, obtain a driver's license, open a checking account, or function in the world. Sometimes the problem is only that a drivers license has been lost, has expired, or was suspended. Sometimes the inmate never had a license, social security card, birth certificate or stable address. Collecting all that paperwork, paying the various fees, and working through the process can take months.

This week we had the Department of Motor Vehicles in to talk about it. It was, for me, a bit frustrating to hear of the kind of seemingly petty roadblocks to this. But, on the other hand, I have been through that sort of process before and I know working with bureaucracies is not easy.

Outside Committee and Yet to Come

More bills are coming out of committees and hitting the floor of the House for votes. That can make for some tough votes and fast research. A weatherization bill (H.439) that raised a tax came out. It's always controversial when a tax is raised. I ended up voting for it, but will be cautious when/if it comes back to us from the Senate. A paid family leave bill (H.107) was also debated and voted upon. It went through a lot of changes in the various committees and now seems palatable. I voted for it, but also for an amendment (failed) that would have slowed up the process. We haven't heard from minimum wage or marijuana taxation. And an Act 250 bill is still in committee. That Lead Testing and Remediation (S.40) bill has been passed on to another committee. It should come out next week.

Looking to the Exits

Here we are in mid-April and some are already looking toward the end of the session some time in late May. I have not yet heard any predictions, but there really should not be any of that end-o-session drama we had last time with the Governor's vetoes, and last minute bombshells. We'll all hoping for an orderly conclusion.