New Vermont program aims to stop the cycle of crime

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) An Essex Junction man released on probation is now back behind bars. It's not the first time a criminal has reoffended in Vermont and it will not be the last. Our Dom Amato found out just how many chances one state prosecutor is willing to give people who break the law.

Ian Gardner

It's no secret Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George is against putting some offenders behind bars and throwing away the key. She says a new state program is providing promise for the future to keep some criminals out of the system. But she also says she's not giving up on reoffenders who are already there.

Ian Gardner took a plea deal on Friday, admitting to violating his probation for a crime he committed in 2013.

After serving his six-year sentence, police say Gardner went on a drug-induced crime spree last fall.

He told the judge his drug abuse was to blame. Now, he could face up to 14 years in prison.

Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George says breaking the cycle of an offender in the criminal justice system is an ongoing battle.

"It's not as easy as just putting them on probation or making them do counseling or sending them to jail," George said.

She says keeping the public safe and rehabilitating an offender is a balancing act.

"They're also a part of this community and they are going to get out eventually," George said. "We need to make sure they are in a good place when they do that, and people are rarely in a better place when they get out of jail."

George says time behind bars is often not the answer for an offender, which is why the state has a number of programs to help keep people out of the courtroom and ultimately out of prison.

"Most of the programs are a way of diverting someone from the system but looking at repair and hopefully avoidance of any kind of repeat," said Rachel Jolly of the Burlington Community Justice Center.

Jolly says the Tamarack Program is one of the newer ways the state is trying to help those with substance abuse or mental health disorders. Officials agree those are some of the main reasons crimes are committed.

"It's a way of quickly connecting them to treatment and other community service resources," Jolly explained.

The Tamarack Program is a form of court diversion. Since it began last October, they have seen almost 70 folks in Chittenden County. It's a resource that has support from public defenders, judges and the state.

"So this is trying to be a way that we stop that repetition of cycles to quickly connect them to treatment," Jolly said.

But George admits there are sometimes failures.

"We, as a community, need to recognize that is a part of it and give them as many options and as many tries as we can before we decide this person isn't worth that anymore," George said. "And I haven't gotten there yet with any of these individuals we're talking about."

The Tamarack Program is just one of many court diversion programs around Vermont. Officials in Chittenden County say it has been successful and they say the only thing slowing them down is a lack of staff and resources.