Legislators: Prison overpopulation tied to lack of treatment

Legislators in Vermont recently took an opportunity to acknowledge the need for more treatment and programming focused on reducing recidivism in its correctional facilities, while also noting the ineffectiveness of incarceration without treatment.

Vermont Senator Dick Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in mid-November that the drug sweeps in Bennington have been impactful, but that the subsequent treatment is not up to par.

“When you go to court that first time, what happens—you either get sent to jail for lack of bail, or you get sent home,” Sears said. “There’s nobody saying ‘here’s the treatment.’”

Sears’ comments come as the state struggles with overcrowding in its correctional facilities. The state has seven, but still is running out of space, and is sending offenders to Kentucky or Virginia to serve their sentences, a costly and ineffective solution.

Sears pointed to a lack of funding as a reason the state hasn’t implemented local drug rehabilitation services. Gov. Peter Shumlin echoed Sears’ concerns, noting that there are as many people on waiting lists for treatment with opiate addiction than there were addicts just 15 years ago.

The financial toll is significant; the cost of housing someone in a state correctional facility is nearly $60,000 a year.

Sears and Shumlin noted that acknowledging the problem is a step in fixing it, and other state officials continue to draw attention to the challenges Vermont faces. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy recently held a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee to highlight the problem of overcrowding in federal prisons.

Vermont, like many other states across the country, is struggling with the overcrowding of its correction facilities, but by acknowledging the challenges it faces and noting that effective treatment and programming is the best way to reduce recidivism, officials there are taking the steps needed to implement real change.

GEO Reentry, which provides residential, day reporting, and in-custody treatment and training, as well as BI Incorporated, the leading provider of electronic monitoring equipment and services, work with officials nationwide to offer alternatives to detention.