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A New Prison for Vermont?

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Emptying out my notebook, I wanted to share a few details that did not make it into the story than ran this week about the Department of Corrections' decision, in the face of a persistently high inmate population, to extend its contract with Corrections Corporation of America and continue to send hundreds of Vermont inmates out-of-state.

* Given that the DOC currently has 1,600 in-state beds and 2,100 inmates, I asked Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito whether his department is considering building a new prison in Vermont, rather than relying on the for-profit CCA. Pallito said the DOC does not have even preliminary plans to build a new prison, but expected to discuss the issue with state lawmakers during the upcoming session.

"I think it will come up this legislative session," Pallito said. "I think it will be a part of the conversation, though it's always about money."

Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield opened in 2003. The 350-bed facility cost $30 million, but, even in the days immediately after it opened, Vermont still had too many inmates and could not discontinue the out-of-state program.

* As he has in the past, Pallito talked a lot about the need to reduce the number of non-violent offenders - often people with substance abuse issues - behind bars. When pressed for examples of ideas that could be implemented, he cited Chittenden County's Rapid Intervention Community Court, in which non-violent offenders with substance abuse and mental health problems are taken out of criminal court and sent to community-based programs. Pallito singled out the efforts of Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan to bolster and promote the community court, which he held up as a model other counties could emulate.

"T.J. Donovan has diverted a lot of non-violent crime out of the system," Pallito said. "Could you replicate that model in a way that makes people use a different model other than criminal justice? I think he's doing a nice job."

* In hopes of reducing recidivism - when former prisoners commit new crimes after they are released - the DOC is planning to apply next year for a potential "seven-figure" federal grant to implement new programs and boost exsting efforts to help inmates transition back into society, Pallito said. Earlier this year, the DOC secured a $60,000 planning grant from the feds to help put together its proposal for the "Second Chance" grant, which is highly competitive, Pallito said. Winners will be announced in the fall of 2014.

 

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