"Incarceration is the most expensive thing that we do in the Department of Corrections," said Vt. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito.
Locking up one inmate in Vermont comes with a $50,000 a year price tag. That bill is chopped in half if the offender is shipped out-of-state. Still, Vermont spent $139 million on its incarcerated population last year -- an 80-percent jump from just a decade ago.
"The cost of corrections in the State of Vermont is completely unsustainable," said Sen. Tim Ashe (D-Chittenden County). Ashe is working on a fix. He introduced a bill that would require Vermont judges to consider the cost of the sentences they impose. It passed the Senate in February. "What we're saying is on those low level crimes where people have made some bad decisions, but they haven't made long term, fundamental fatal decisions that we want to best turn their lives around and do it in a way that's affordable to the State of Vermont. And throwing people in jail is not that solution," he said.
Ashe said the proposed legislation would require corrections to provide judges with a cost comparison for sentencing non-violent criminals. The idea would be to weigh the cost of incarceration against less pricey alternatives. A sample menu of options would show a judge that, right now, community diversion costs less than $1 a day; electronic monitoring $14 a day; work crew $48a day; transitional housing $58 a day; residential treatment $98 dollars a day. Prison tops the scale at $156 per day.
"The bill does not say to the judge that you have to issue this sentence because it's the cheapest option," Ashe said.
But it does ask them to add cost to the list of factors they consider -- like an offender's character and criminal history. Vermont would be the first state in the nation to pass such a law. "The only one who's responsible for the cost of the people in my custody, is me. And I haven't sentenced any of them. So I think it shares the burden a little bit," Commissioner Pallito said.
Some judges disagree. Those who oppose it told lawmakers it is inappropriate to consider cost when it comes to sentencing.
"I think that that's nonsense," Pallito said. "I think that you've got to consider the cost of everything we do."
Lawmakers admit it's a break from tradition, but in tough economic times they said it's a tool judges need to use. "Right now they are operating without that information. But we all know that the decisions they make, the judgments they reach, affect taxpayers and affect recidivism rates," Ashe said.
Missouri passed a similar measure three years ago. It allowed judges to consider cost, but it didn't make it a mandatory factor for sentencing.
The House Judiciary Committee is set to debate the Senate's bill Tuesday. Vermont Superior Court Judge Michael Kupersmith is scheduled to testify at that hearing. He declined to speak to WCAX-TV Monday.
Friday, December 13 2013 3:52 AM EST2013-12-13 08:52:03 GMT
Vermont State Police are investigating what killed a skier at Killington. Ski patrol found the body of 21-year-old Jennifer Strohl off the Great Northern trail around 5 p.m. Thursday night. Friends ofMore >>
Vermont State Police are investigating what killed a skier at Killington.More >>
Thursday, December 12 2013 11:53 PM EST2013-12-13 04:53:05 GMT
Crews battled a fire at a multi-family home in Winooski Thursday evening. The fire broke out around 8 p.m and the Winooski fire chief says when firefighters arrived half of the home was already in flames.More >>
Crews battled a fire at a multi-family home in Winooski Thursday evening. The fire broke out around 8 p.m.More >>
Thursday, December 12 2013 11:51 PM EST2013-12-13 04:51:08 GMT
Authorities are stitching together details to a rather unusual crime in Bradford. State police say someone recently broke into an apartment building on South Main Street and stole a large antique sewingMore >>
Authorities are stitching together details to a rather unusual crime in Bradford.More >>
Thursday, December 12 2013 7:43 PM EST2013-12-13 00:43:01 GMT
The governor and top health officials say vital signs for Vermont's health exchange are improving. Tens of thousands are now signed up, but not as many as initially anticipated. More >>
The governor and top health officials say vital signs for Vermont's health exchange are improving. Tens of thousands are now signed up, but not as many as initially anticipated. About 60 percent of those originally expected to enroll are signed up. More >>
Thursday, December 12 2013 6:02 PM EST2013-12-12 23:02:47 GMT
Police have made a second arrest in a Brattleboro sexual assault. They arrested Jeffrey Anderson, 29, of Brattleboro, last month. Thursday, they picked up William Brown, 29, of Hinsdale, N.H. PoliceMore >>
Police have made a second arrest in a Brattleboro sexual assault.More >>
Thursday, December 12 2013 4:29 PM EST2013-12-12 21:29:00 GMT
Police have made a third arrest in connection with a brawl outside a Plattsburgh State fraternity house. City police arrested Jake Feldman, 20, on a charge of second-degree assault. Investigators sayMore >>
Police have made a third arrest in connection with a brawl outside a Plattsburgh State fraternity house.More >>
Thursday, December 12 2013 4:56 PM EST2013-12-12 21:56:44 GMT
A fraternity and a sorority at the University of Vermont have been placed under interim suspension while UVM police investigate allegations of underage drinking. One alleged incident happened in NovemberMore >>
A fraternity and a sorority at the University of Vermont have been placed under interim suspension while UVM police investigate allegations of underage drinking.More >>
Thursday, December 12 2013 5:22 PM EST2013-12-12 22:22:18 GMT
Police in Winooski released surveillance photos Thursday of three people suspected of breaking into cars and stealing debit and credit cards. The pictures were taken at a store where the suspects usedMore >>
Police in Winooski released surveillance photos Thursday of three people suspected of breaking into cars and stealing debit and credit cards.More >>