Improve community supervision
Community supervision is intended to be an alternative to incarceration, a mechanism for early release, and an opportunity to lower recidivism through effective re-entry practices. Probation may be offered in lieu of serving a sentence in prison, while furlough and parole may be available post-incarceration.
Vermont’s furlough program, run by the DOC, allows people deemed low risk in prison to serve time in the community before completing their prison sentences under supervision and conditions, such as curfews and electronic monitoring. Parole similarly allows people to return to their communities, if the parole board grants it, regardless of DOC’s recommendation.
Vermont's probation, parole, and furlough practices are not working ast intended and in fact drive Vermont's inflated incarceration rates to a significant extent. That is in large part because the decisions that determine outcomes occur with virtually no transparency, public oversight, or accountability.
In Vermont, conditions required by the DOC or parole officers, and transitional living facility rules — unique to each individual facility — can impede released people from complying with other release requirements, such as finding a job. For example, a person tasked with finding and keeping a job may have to regularly meet with their supervision officer, attend counseling sessions several times each week, prepare and attend transitional house dinners, and comply with curfews that dictate which times they must be inside the transitional living home, all of which can conflict with their work schedule.
The Legislature should limit excessive and unnecessary supervision conditions and require officers to ensure the level and parameters of supervision are aligned with and lead to better public safety and rehabilitation outcomes.
Reduce probation and parole revocations
Too often, people in Vermont are revoked from supervision and sent to prison for technical violations, not for committing new crimes. The state imposes a system of graduated sanctions for people on probation, ensuring responses to violations are proportional and encourage successful completion. We should expand this system to furlough and parole violations, which allow for vast discretion to continue or revoke community supervision.
Additionally, we should prohibit incarceration in all cases of technical violations, rather than offering exceptions, as the system does today. We should further require appointed counsel at revocation hearings, and require the publication of more data on probation and parole revocation decisions and outcomes be made available to the public.
Lastly, it is important to note that parole revocations for technical violations are often due to physical or mental disabilities. Parole and probation officers are required to provide reasonable accommodations so that parolees and probationers with disabilities have an equal opportunity to comply with the requirements of parole--and yet, too often, that does not happen. Proper training of parole officers and greater awareness of, and advocacy for, these requirements could significantly reduce the number of technical violations and prevent civil rights violations.