Corrections officials say cutting prison population harder than it looks

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont corrections officials are reacting to a plan pitched this week by the American Civil Liberties Union to cut the state's prison population by about 40 percent.

There are 1,735 inmates behind bars right now. The ACLU wants to get that number down to about 1,100 by reforms including eliminating the cash bail system and decriminalizing prostitution and possession of narcotics. They acknowledge overhauling the system is incredibly complex and will involve input from the Legislature, the Department of Corrections and law enforcement.

Vermont Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette says cutting the jail population is harder than it looks, especially when it comes to the two top categories, including violent offenders and felonies involving property crimes.

"Those two first top categories of people that are in the system are indicative of really risky and challenging cases and I think we need to be mindful of how we re-enter those people appropriately, safely, make sure that our communities are safe and that our victims feel support," Touchette said.

The ACLU also wants more data collection from the DOC, the attorney general's office and police that lawmakers can use to make policy decisions.

DOC officials say they don't always have the ability and resources to dig up and interpret data on inmates. Officials say when they receive public records requests it takes time, resources and even paid contractors to dig up, interpret and then redact the data.

According to the ACLU, Vermont's prison population hit an all-time high a decade ago when 2,200 were behind bars. Today, the 1,735 inmates can be broken down into several categories:

-1,028 inmates are serving time for serious offenses like aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault and murder.
- 240 inmates are in for felonies like burglary, grand larceny and arson.
- 139 inmates are in for felonies against people, like assault and robbery and lewd and lascivious conduct.