A group of House lawmakers has introduced legislation aimed at reducing the state’s prison population in order to avoid sending inmates to out-of-state facilities.
The legislation builds off ideas offered by criminal justice reform advocates late last year.
H.221, referred to the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions, would do that by expanding court diversion and deferred sentencing for nonviolent offenders. It also increases the threshold for felony theft from $900 to $3,000, and eliminates the sentence of life without parole for people younger than 18. (Another bill, H.62
The bill would prevent the Department of Corrections from prohibiting otherwise legal behavior in its terms of release, unless the terms are required for public safety. Finally, it removes DOC’s responsibility to approve an inmate’s post-release housing.
There are 200 to 240 people eligible for release from corrections daily who are held for lack of housing, according to former state Rep. Suzi Wizowaty, now with the group Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform.
“If we want to create safer communities, we need a more effective response to interpersonal harm — and that means putting fewer people in jail. And just reducing the numbers by 400 would eliminate the out-of-state contract and save the state $12 million,” Wizowaty said in a statement.