Is Jim Deeghan's early release the exception or the norm? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Is Jim Deeghan's early release the exception or the norm?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

"This is something that happens every day in every courthouse in Vermont," Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan said.

Donovan is talking about the discrepancy between prison sentences imposed by the court and how much time a defendant actually serves. Jim Deeghan is a high-profile example.

"I was a little surprised that he got released early," Vt. State Police Col. Tom L'Esperance said.

The commander of Vermont's green and gold says the former sergeant's crimes are a betrayal of the badge. The 22-year veteran left the state police in disgrace after stealing more than $200,000 in overtime pay he didn't earn, covering his tracks with a trail of fake tickets and bogus police calls.

"Somebody who engaged in public fraud, public corruption, like Mr. Deeghan did deserve to go to jail," Donovan said. "The hard part of this job is how much punishment is enough?"

Donovan cut a plea deal for 24 months behind bars and Deeghan was shipped to an Indiana jail. So, why was he released after serving only nine months?

"It's a system that is incredibly confusing to the general public. Frankly, it's a system confusing to the people that work in it," Donovan said.

"In this particular case, the department is just following statute and law that has been set out as we would with any other offender," said Dale Crook of the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Corrections says Deeghan is a nonviolent, low-risk offender without a previous criminal record. Under Vermont law, that makes him eligible for a variety of get-out-early-type programs.

"For those cases that we view that we can effectively manage in the community, that's where they should be supervised," Crook said.

Work crew gives inmates day-for-day credit. There are currently 1,025 Vermont offenders that get a day chopped off their sentences for every day they work for the prison.

  • 201 offenders are on pre-approved furlough, bypassing prison for community supervision.
  • 684 offenders are on conditional re-entry, which means they've served their minimum sentences and are eligible for supervised release.
  • 35 others participate in reintegration furlough, which allows Corrections to release them six months before their minimum sentences.

In Deeghan's case, he served nine months in jail, was given nine months credit for his work camp duties and reintegration furlough subtracted another six months.

So, knowing this, should prosecutors have asked for more jail time at the outset?

"You know, I don't think so," Donovan said. "I don't think we want to arbitrarily try to increase sentences on the assumption that five years will get you two years. I don't think that's good policy."

Deeghan still has to pay back all of the money he stole. The commander of the state police says he hopes the former sergeant can move on and be a productive member of society.

"It's a lesson learned for all of us and there's no grudges," L'Esperance said. "We just won't forget. You can't forget because we have to continue to build from this."

Deeghan cannot work as a police officer; he was decertified this summer. He'll be supervised by a probation officer while on furlough.

State police say they're slowly regaining the public's trust and have created safeguards to prevent timecard fraud in the future.

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