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Vermont Derails Runaway Prison Growth

Press Release

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Location: Montpelier, VT

Gov. Peter Shumlin, joined by experts from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Pew Center on the States and others, today announced that the state has reversed the skyrocketing trend in prison growth, reduced failure rates among people released from prison, and cut crime over the past 5 years. Today's announcement marks a turnaround from 2007, when the Pew Center issued a national report that highlighted Vermont as the state with the greatest projected corrections increase in the Northeast and one of the highest in the nation.

"Vermont's successful efforts to keep nonviolent offenders out of expensive jail cells, keep our communities safe, and help control the growing recidivism rate have saved taxpayers money and enabled inmates to build successful lives outside of jail," said Gov. Shumlin. "My thanks to the Council of State Governments, the Pew Center on the States and Bureau of Justice Assistance for their help in focusing on this problem and enabling Vermont to stem the growing crisis in corrections."

Also joining the Governor at today's announcement were lawmakers, including Sen. Richard Sears and Rep. Alice Emmons, who have worked on programs to support the corrections reductions; Administrative Judge Amy Davenport to highlight the Judiciary's commitment to this effort; and representatives of Vermont's Congressional Delegation.

According to the 2007 review, Vermont was projecting a 26 percent growth rate in their prison population by 2018. This significant projected growth, in a system that had already expanded by as much as 80 percent in the preceding 10 years, makes the turnaround somewhat remarkable when contrasted with other states.

"We applaud Vermont's leaders for setting the state on a new path toward public safety," said Richard Jerome, project manager of The Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project. "Through bipartisan efforts, policy makers here and across the country are making better use of taxpayer dollars by implementing research-based sentencing and corrections strategies that make communities safer and hold offenders more accountable while reining in the cost of prisons."

By 2008, state leaders were faced with the potential of increasing corrections spending by $80 million over a ten-year period to send additional inmates out of state or spend nearly $200 million to build new prison beds in the state of Vermont. In 2008, state leaders commissioned a comprehensive analysis of crime and corrections trends, and used that information to design the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2008. Just last year, state leaders worked together to enact the War on Recidivism Act of 2011.

Data presented by the Council of State Governments Justice Center showed that not only has the prison population not increased as was predicted before the reforms, it has in fact declined. Since the implementation of new policies, the population is down from a high of 2,306 in 2009 to 2,059 today.

"Using data and working across the aisle, we sought a smarter approach to public safety," said Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito. "As a result, we've saved the state millions of dollars and fewer people are in prison than there were in 2007. And, most importantly, our state is safer."

To date, the Department of Corrections has been able to reinvest over $6 million. Analyses presented by the Council of State Governments Justice Center found that the state has cut its three-year re-incarceration rate of people released from prison from 45 percent to 41 percent. Furthermore, the violent crime rate has dropped 5 percent between 2008 and 2010, and the property crime rate is down 10 percent over the same two-year period.

"Reducing recidivism is a top priority for our state," said Sen. Sears. "Last year, we passed legislation that provides greater clarity in defining how our state measures failure rates of people released from prison. Now, we can be clearer about how we compare to other states and we've made it easier for policymakers to track changes from one year to the next."

Rep. Emmons added, "We're looking forward to working with Council of State Governments Justice Center over the next several months to create a dashboard that helps policymakers be even more precise, data-driven, and real-time about what's working and isn't working to reduce recidivism in our state."

"I am pleased that recidivism is down in Vermont, and I know we can reduce it even further. That's a goal that all Vermonters, Republicans and Democrats alike, share," said Sen. Diane Snelling.

The CSG Justice Center's Justice Reinvestment Initiative to address corrections spending and public safety is a partnership with the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Center on the States, with additional support to CSG from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice. These efforts have provided similar data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 14 other states.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies--informed by available evidence--to increase public safety and strengthen communities.

The CSG Justice Center's Justice Reinvestment Initiative to address corrections spending and public safety is a partnership with the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Center on the States, with additional support to CSG from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice. These efforts have provided similar data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 14 other states.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies--informed by available evidence--to increase public safety and strengthen communities.


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