In his first public appearance after the hotly contested Democratic attorney general primary, Republican AG candidate Jack McMullen repeated a familiar argument: That of Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan, who conceded the hour before to incumbent Bill Sorrell.
McMullen held his press conference in what he described twice as a “middle-class” area. Burlington resident David Mears was the host, and in his neighborhood, just off Route 7 in Burlington, Mears said that a recent rash of burglaries has left him feeling unsafe.
McMullen says he has a plan to change that.
“I hear from everybody. There’s drug-driven crime in the state of escalating proportion,” McMullen said, citing conversations with Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito as well as law enforcement officers around the state.
“The way I propose dealing with it is a two-tiered approach,” he said. “On the first tier are dangerous criminals. Violent repeat offenders, drug dealers. Here, I’m proposing a statewide task force. We have 14 different state’s attorneys really following this problem. The attorney general has done good work, but his focus has not been on criminal matters.”
McMullen said the AG, with statewide jurisdiction, should coordinate between all counties for a consistent approach to getting violent criminals in jail.
“With 14 different state’s attorneys addressing the problem, you have an uneven approach to it and what that means is that the bad guys can figure out where the seams are and then work them,” McMullen said.
The second aspect of his plan is a proposal that largely mimics TJ Donovan’s Rapid Intervention Community Court initiative.
“At the same time, we have non-violent offenders, and here’s where what I’ve learned about Maple Leaf Farm comes in,” McMullen said, referencing an addiction treatment center located in Underhill. “If you take the same demographics, two sets of 20-somethings who are non-violent offenders, put the first group into treatment right off and follow them for three years … you find that after three years, 70 percent of these folks remain clean.” The flipside, he said, is that “put ‘em in jail for 60 days to teach them a lesson the old-fashioned way, and then into treatment … only 30 percent of the second group remain clean. So that’s a 40 percent gap between those two groups.”
McMullen proposed to use justice reinvestment money across the state to begin programs that would allow non-violent, first-time offenders to be referred directly to treatment centers instead of sending them to jail. Donovan did virtually the same thing in Chittenden County and proposed in his candidacy to expand the program across the state.
McMullen acknowledged the similarities.
“Just because it came from a Democrat doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea,” McMullen said. “My main thrust today would be taking non-violent offenders who are young straight into treatment.”
The third component of McMullen’s plan was a proposal to coordinate with attorneys general in states bordering Vermont to allow out-of-state offenders who are tried and convicted in Vermont to serve their time in their home state. Vermonters who committed offenses in those states would also serve their time in Vermont, McMullen said.
“This will have the beneficial effect of when they’re released, they’ll be released in their home jurisdiction and if they’re likely to repeat offend, those offenses occur in the home jurisdiction, not in Vermont,” he said.
Who would pay for it? “Well, that’s to be worked out,” McMullen said. “This doesn’t exist today.”
In general, he said he wants the money to come from the same place as the offender.
“I think the idea would be: It’s your guy, you should pay for him. That would be my starting position in any negotiation. And likewise, if it’s our guy, we should pay for him,” McMullen said.
At the end of the press conference, reporters asked why McMullen wasn’t a member of the bar in Vermont.
McMullen defended his credentials and said he was in the process of joining the Vermont Bar Association.
“Well I taught at law school. I taught the kinds of people that practice law here and it wasn’t just any law school – at Harvard Law School, of which I am also a graduate. In addition I’m a member of the bars of three jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia and the Associated Federal Courts,” McMullen said.
He didn’t join the Vermont Bar sooner because of an apprenticeship requirement.
“I should be a member of the Vermont Bar in a matter of months, but I’d also point out that as Attorney General Sorrell well knows, most of the cases are not prosecuted by him, they’re prosecuted by his staff.”