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Changes behind bars to battle Vt. drug, crime problems - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Changes behind bars to battle Vt. drug, crime problems

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RUTLAND, Vt. -

Gov. Peter Shumlin's State of the State message has put the spotlight on Vermont's drug abuse issues. One of the governor's goals-- more immediate drug treatment for addicts caught committing crimes.

"An addict is most accepting of treatment right after the bust. It's when the blue lights are flashing and cold reality sets in that we have our best shot," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.

The Vermont Department of Corrections is glad the governor is highlighting the issue.

"We're thrilled actually," said Keith Tallon of the Rutland Probation and Parole Office. "I think that we are very pleased that the governor has come into the full understanding of what the problem is in Vermont."

Corrections officials say they are combating the issue and the state's 42 percent recidivism rate head on by overhauling their treatment programs. The move away from offense-based targeted programming to risk-based targeted programming will address multiple need areas that prompt criminal behavior.

They say these programs will help teach important life skills to prevent reoffending and more people ending up back in jail.

"Having them look at their thinking and then being able to demonstrate where they have now an understanding of how that thinking, the criminal thinking, was affecting their behavior and consequently resulting in criminal actions," Tallon said.

Substance abuse experts agree that the more comprehensive approach addresses the challenges one can face when re-entering society after going through treatment, including relationship issues, trauma issues or basic life skills like how to get a job.

"It's a good thing that they are giving people the opportunity to participate in treatment to change behaviors rather than just saying OK, go back into your environment here, you're out of jail now, and then they have nothing," said Colette Rotmil of Evergreen Substance Abuse Services.

Law enforcement says more complete programming can also help domestic violence offenders assimilate back into their normal lives and get reacquainted with families.

"I think the things that they learn in Corrections in these programs are important and perhaps help with re-entry into the community," Rutland City Police Capt. Scott Tucker said.

With their new programming currently being implemented, the Department of Corrections says they are optimistic about the state's future.

"It's a very hopeful message that the governor gave, and the thought that we would be adding program capacity throughout the state, is very hopeful," Tallon said.

The department says they are currently in the midst of transitioning offenders who were in the old programs and still have a ways to go until the new curriculum is fully implemented. Once it is, they believe they will ultimately serve more people.

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