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Gov. Shumlin proposes court and educational changes to reduce recidivism

In a move to further reduce recidivism, on Monday, Jan. 7, Gov. Peter Shumlin called for changes in the way courts handle drunk driving cases, as well as the consolidation of the successful Community High School of Vermont and Vermont Correctional Industries programs under the umbrella of Corrections Education.

These latest proposals build on previous work to reduce the number of Vermont inmates who re-offend after their release and return to prison, particularly among youthful offenders. According to the Department of Corrections, the rate of young inmates in Vermont's prison dropped from 2,074 in 2003 to 938 in June of 2012 (which was down from 1,079 the year before, and 1,306 in 2010).

The Governor announced that Robert Sand, Windsor County State's Attorney, would join the Vermont Department of Public Safety to help criminal justice professionals throughout the state develop innovative and effective sentencing practices, including the creation of DUI treatment dockets in Vermont. DUI treatment dockets, similar to the drug court model, help impaired drivers overcome their addiction through close judicial monitoring of their treatment and the imposition of swift and certain sanctions and rewards. DUI treatments dockets can increase substance abuse recovery rates, lower recidivism rates, and save correctional and other costs.

Based on the experiences in other states that have developed treatment courts, for every dollar spent to support these courts, states save between $2 to $4 in other criminal justice expenditures (source: The National Association of Drug Court Professionals www.nadcp.org/learn/facts-and-figures).

Sand, who has been a State's Attorney since 1997 and who worked in the mid- 1990's as the Department of State's Attorney's DUI Resource Attorney and legislative liaison, said, "Few areas of criminal law provide as vexing a sentencing challenge as operating under the influence of alcohol offenses. While Vermonters are understandably alarmed at the rise in prescription opiate abuse, alcohol addiction is a pressing criminal justice problem."

He said a small number of alcohol abusers repeatedly return to court on new charges and pose an unacceptably high risk to the public. But many of these offenders, once they achieve sobriety, productively rejoin their communities.

"The criminal justice system has an opportunity, and an obligation, to find effective ways to help these offenders address their addiction," said Sand.

The Governor said Sand will work to spearhead efforts on behalf of the Administration for the development of effective and innovative evidence-based sentencing practices in DUI and other cases, as well as develop trainings and educational programming for criminal justice professionals and students at Vermont Law School. Sand's position, which he will assume in March, is federally funded for at least the first three years. He will work from an office at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

"It's imperative that we keep drunk drivers off Vermont's roads, but locking them in jail cells isn't always the best way to deal with these complex cases," the Governor said. He said Windsor County has been focusing on smarter ways to deal with DUI cases that reduce the likelihood of re-offense and help treat addiction. These efforts include the pre-trial services docket known as the Sparrow Program and the newly developed  DUI Treatment docket in Windsor County.

"Bobby has been key to that work, and can now work with other criminal justice professionals around the state that want to hold these offenders accountable while also helping them overcome their addiction," the Governor said.

Gov. Shumlin also noted that each year approximately 2,000 people access the services of the Community High School of Vermont and Vermont Correctional Industries. On a yearly basis CHSVT graduates approximately 125 students and issues 300 Industry Certifications. Vermont Correctional Industries employs over 100 workers on a daily basis, which provides on the job training and skill building, the Governor said.

The Corrections Education proposal, which will save the state about $600,000, has two components. First, CHSVT will concentrate its efforts in the correctional facilities, and redefine program offerings for various populations - which can be dependent on type of sentence and risk factors. CHSVT and VCI will redesign the offerings and work experiences to meet the various needs of the inmate populations. Correctional education efforts will include work force development, independent living, and post-secondary planning - all necessary for successful transition from the facilities into the community.

"Education and jobs training are critical in helping incarcerated Vermonters rebuild their lives after their release," Gov. Shumlin said.

"Because of the success of diversion programs over the past few years such as the Rapid Intervention Community Court in Chittenden County, the DOC is excited to retool the CHSVT to serve our current population with this new model" said Commissioner Andrew Pallito. "This new model will allow us to focus not only on educational needs, but also the associated job skills to become employable upon release."