Is Vermont's furlough program effective?

Published: Jun. 5, 2018 at 5:16 PM EDT
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In recent weeks, two Vermonters out on furlough have been accused of murder. So who exactly gets furloughed and what is the state doing to keep communities safe from people who are on it?

The furlough program is run by the Corrections Department and is designed for inmates who pose a low risk to public safety. If they are granted furlough, inmates get a chance to serve time in the community, preparing them for life after their sentence is over.

But in the past three months, two Vermonters were allegedly murdered by people out on furlough.

In St. Johnsbury, police say furloughee Allen Draper killed Timothy Persons, a volunteer at the halfway house where Draper lived.

In South Royalton, Frank Sanville was on furlough when police say he shot his estranged wife while her young nephew was sitting on her lap.

So who gets furloughed and what is the state doing to keep communities safe from people who are on it?

Furlough is a legal status supervised by the Department of Corrections meant to reintegrate offenders into the community. There are more than 800 people in Vermont on furlough right now.

State officials told our Ike Bendavid they're helping inmates adjust to a life outside of prison while still being supervised.

"Ninety-five percent of the offenders that are in jail will be released into the communities," said Dale Crook, the director of field services for the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Crook helps transition offenders from jail into the community while they are still in the state's custody.

"What furlough allows us to do is to reintegrate them back in the community with supervision and support in hopes that they will make positive changes in their lives," Crook explained.

That supervision can vary depending on the criminal and the crime. Some are subjected to ankle bracelets and 24-hour monitoring, others are visited once a month by Corrections.

"The higher the risk the individual is is how we adjust our supervision," Crook said.

Some offenders are placed on furlough when they reach their minimum sentence; some are never eligible for the program.

"We want to make sure that the individuals that we have in our facilities are the ones that need to be there," Crook said.

The goal is to ease offenders back into civilization. But some furloughees fail. Right now, two are accused of murder.

"They are human beings. We try to use assessment and risk assessments to make good determinations but sometimes we can't foresee behaviors like this happening," Crook said.

The state says the number of people on furlough in Barre City is 38. Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier says he works closely with the state to make sure the program stays on track and keeps the community safe.

"I think there is a good exchange of information between DOC and law enforcement in Central Vermont," Bombardier said.

Bombardier points to a good relationship with Corrections knowing when and where furloughees are in his city. He says the program is a success in his city.

"I think in Barre City we have seen it work pretty well," he said.

And when an inmate can't cut it on the outside, the state take them back in.

"For some people it works and for some people it doesn't," Bombardier said. "For the people it doesn't work for, we see the FSU folks pick them up."

For an offender to get off furlough in the state of Vermont, they must reach their maximum sentence date and be done with supervision from the state.

So will the state change its program as a result of the two pending murder cases involving furloughees? Crook says Corrections is reviewing both cases and their inmate risk assessment strategies. But he says no matter what they do, there will always be a risk that people on furlough will reoffend.