Candidate name: Phil Scott

Campaign mailing address, email, and phone:

PO Box 988
Montpelier, VT 05601

(802) 274-2722

[email protected]



1. Over the last 40 years, Vermont’s population grew by 35% while its prison population grew by more than 300%, resulting in an annual cost to taxpayers of roughly $150 million in incarceration costs alone. If elected, will you commit to helping Vermont reduce its prison population by at least 50%?

No. The prison population should be reduced with specific reference to the crimes committed and the history of a particular offender with notice to, and input from, the victims. That said, I do not believe incarceration is appropriate in all cases and to the extent the population can be reduced accordingly I would support that. Misdemeanors should receive appropriate alternatives to incarceration, such as community service; it is my understanding this is already the largely case. In cases involving mental health and addiction, appropriate consideration should be given to diversion and treatment.

To commit to a specific percentage reduction, however, is irresponsible in my opinion: fails to take into account that each case must be considered on the merits; and it could put the health, safety and welfare of Vermonters at risk. Vermont’s violent offenders – those convicted of domestic assault, sexual assault and crimes against children and vulnerable adults deserve to be sentenced as appropriate under the law and the facts of the case. This group makes up more than half of Vermont’s offender population with about 900 incarcerated for serious felonies such as aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault and murder.

To reduce the incarcerated population we need to do the hard work necessary to identify and address risk behaviors in our youth; we need to expand opportunities in post-secondary education for job and career training; we need to grow our economy and make Vermont more affordable so Vermonters have hope for their futures; and we need to more effectively address the needs of those suffering from addiction and mental health issues.

 


2. Two thirds of Vermont voters want to reduce our prison population and increase alternatives to incarceration. What specific legislative reforms will you advocate in the next biennium to reduce Vermont’s reliance on incarceration, and for each of those reforms, if enacted, how many detainees and/or prisoners do you estimate could be re-sentenced, released, or diverted to alternatives?

Vermonters should understand there are multiple efforts already in place to reduce incarceration and we should monitor and collect data on the effectiveness of those programs, figure out which ones actually are working and how others might work better and focus our efforts there. The tendency to simply add programs and add multiple demands on already stressed funding and staffing resources is not sustainable.

Last year I worked with the Legislature on reasonable bail reform proposals and proposals to strengthen the efforts of the Office of the Attorney General regarding pre-trial services and diversion programs. I will continue to support the efforts of the Judiciary to fund a Judicial Master in order to enhance the effectiveness of the State’s treatment courts. We are waiting on reports from the Judiciary on sentencing reform, from the Department of Children and Families on extending family court jurisdiction for juveniles, and the Restorative Justice Study Committee with respect to domestic and sexual violence and stalking crimes. We are waiting on a report from DOC regarding sentencing data on those incarcerated. While these and other criminal justice reform initiatives implemented over the last two decades are important, and many may see the rate of incarcerations in Vermont as concerning, my priority must be the safety of Vermonters. Again, we cannot forget the impact violent crimes and other felonies have on victims and their families.

We need to give the State’s existing programs some time. This is especially true because, unfortunately, while we have seen progress in prescribing practices for opioids, our law enforcement community is not seeing any change in conditions on the ground. The opioid epidemic is driving crimes relating to domestic abuse and theft, as well as the possession, sale and distribution of opioids.

On this front, my Administration is committed to expanding access to treatment and recovery services to Vermonters. Over the last eighteen months we have made considerable progress in the following areas:

Improving Statewide Coordination

● Created, by Executive Order, the Opioid Coordination Council (OCC), with a mission to strengthen and expand Vermont’s response to the opioid crisis through prevention, treatment, recovery and enforcement, while improving coordination across all state and local entities with a role in addressing the crisis.

● Created the new position of Director of Drug Prevention Policy to align the delivery of services within state government, oversee the OCC and work with communities across Vermont to implement strategies.

● Repurposed the Vermont Agency of Education’s Tobacco Use Prevention Coordinator position into a Substance Use Prevention Coordinator, allowing the State to address a wider range of prevention efforts in our schools.

● Worked with the Attorney General to come to an agreement that assured at least $14 million from this year’s tobacco settlement went to addressing this crisis.

Expanding Substance Use Disorder Treatment Workforce

● Coordinated a statewide substance use disorder workforce summit in April 2017, hosting more than 150 health, education and policy stakeholders to collaborate on solutions to substance abuse disorders, with a focus on increasing professionals in the treatment and recovery fields.

● Working with the Secretary of State's Office of Professional Regulation (OPR), providers and industry stakeholders, reformed administrative rules governing licensed treatment professionals. These reforms increased the efficiency of the licensing process, allowing for expansion of this sector of the workforce.

Expanding Access to Treatment

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● Worked with partners and providers to expedite opening of the St Albans Hub (including opening of a temporary hub at Northwest Medical Center). These efforts supported the hard work of providers and treatment professionals across the state, helping bring the Chittenden County treatment wait list to zero , which created the capacity statewide to get people into treatment quickly.

● Secured an amendment to Vermont’s Global Commitment to Health 1115 Demonstration waiver, allowing Medicaid to pay for inpatient residential treatment for addiction.

● Expanded Medication Assisted Treatment to a 120-day continuation at all Department of Corrections sites.

● After Maple Leaf Treatment Center in Underhill had to close its doors in February 2018, the Agency of Human Services partnered with Valley Vista and the Recovery House Network in Rutland to ensure there would not be a gap in inpatient treatment capacity. Employment & Recovery

● Launched a new initiative to have Vermont Department of Labor employment counselors make regular visits to all of Vermont’s recovery centers, providing services and guidance to help those in recovery find and keep jobs.

Protecting Children Impacted by the Crisis

● Proposed and passed investment of $500,000 for a child protection initiative within DCF, which supports parent-child contact and will help reduce the backlog of court cases involving children affected by the opioid epidemic.

● Proposed and passed increased investment in the guardian ad litem program, which supports children in the court system.

Working to Reduce Supply

● The Vermont Drug Task Force, in partnership with federal and local law enforcement, has concluded multiple significant drug trafficking investigations involving illegal opioids and other narcotics, resulting in the arrest of over 200 individuals for narcotics violations. These investigations targeted Vermonters responsible for distributing narcotics, including heroin, and facilitating the distribution of illegal drugs by out-of-state suppliers.

● The Department of Public Safety has secured a $1.3 million Department of Justice Grant to combat heroin trafficking in Vermont.

● In partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement, promote and participate in “Drug Take Back” days, which aim to provide a safe, convenient and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, including unused opioids. In the last 18 months, nearly nine tons of unused prescriptions, including opioids, have been safely disposed of by Vermonters.

● Establishing prescription drug disposal sites at all ten Vermont State Police Barracks.



3. Vermont’s Department of Corrections (DOC) does not release aggregate data that would allow for analysis of Vermont’s inmate population by race, gender, age, disability, county, offense, or length of sentence. Will you advocate for DOC to start collecting, analyzing, and releasing aggregate data on Vermont’s inmate population to assist policymakers and the public in crafting smarter criminal justice policies?

The Department of Corrections only has one FTE who is responsible for data collection and distribution, among other responsibilities. That said, the Department is responsive to all inquiries for information on Vermont’s offender population. Sometimes there are confidentiality conditions that preclude sharing of some information, but as far as collecting and releasing data, I am satisfied with how the Department is serving the public.

If the legislature has concerns with the amount of information they have to make sound policy decisions, I would be open to hearing what ideas they have to improve the sharing of information.


4. Police records show that people of color are disproportionately stopped and searched by Vermont law enforcement, and racial disparities in Vermont’s prison system are among the worst in the nation. What new policies will you advance to better address systemic racism in Vermont’s criminal justice system specifically, and in Vermont as a whole?

I am committed to identifying racial disparities throughout State government systems and to eliminating them. I plan to expand engagement with community partners and the work of Executive Branch agencies, departments, commissions and councils such as the Department of Public Safety through its Fair and Impartial Policing Initiative; the Agency of Transportation through its Office of Civil Rights, the Agency of Education through partnerships with professional associations in anti-bias efforts, the Human Rights Commission, and the Governor’s Workforce Equity and Diversity Council (GWEDC) in increasing minority representation in the state government workforce.

I am excited about the opportunity to appoint an Executive Director of Racial Equity. We will have a dedicated resource focused on coordinating and improving activities in State government to combat systemic racial disparities. We will identify systems which engender racial disparities; manage collection of race-based data across the Executive Branch; and develop a model fairness and diversity policy and best practices for remediating systemic racial, ethnic and other cultural disparities throughout the Executive Branch of State government.

Training will be essential and I have directed all full time Executive Branch gubernatorial appointees attend annual State-sponsored training on issues related to racial equity and diversity. Recruitment procedures shall be in place to attract a diverse pool of applicants to all occupational categories. All personnel involved in the recruiting, screening, and selection processes shall be properly trained to ensure the elimination and absence of bias in all recruitment activities.

With respect to Vermont as a whole, I can, and do, speak to the issue of the need for greater respect and civility as frequently as possible. As I have said, I plan to lead by example, as we all should strive to do. We must show our youth how to engage in important, complex debates with both conviction and civility; we must convince others that the strength of our nation is in its diversity of people and opinion; and we must listen to, and learn from, each other.


5. There is growing consensus about the need for public health-centered approaches to substance use and addiction that emphasize decriminalization and harm reduction, increase access to treatment, and do not involve prosecution for drug possession. What new policies will you advance to increase access to treatment and reduce incarceration for drug crimes in Vermont?

Again, we have relatively new programs in place which must be assessed for their effectiveness and expanded when they demonstrate success. Treatment is a multi-faceted problem which encompasses workforce needs, facility needs and employment and job training. Over the last two years, my office made substantial strides in the area of access to treatment and continuing those efforts remain my priority. First, the State needs licensed professionals to work in the area of treatment and recovery which we will continue to address as part of my workforce development initiatives. In April 2017, I coordinated a Statewide substance abuse disorder workforce summit, hosting more than 150 health, education and policy stakeholders to collaborate on solutions to substance abuse disorders, with a focus on increasing professionals in the treatment and recovery fields. Working with the Secretary of State's Office of Professional Regulation (OPR), providers and industry stakeholders, we reformed administrative rules governing licensed treatment professionals. These reforms increased the efficiency of the licensing process, allowing for expansion of this sector of the workforce.

Second, we need to continue to expand access to treatment facilities. We worked with partners and providers to expedite opening of the St. Albans Hub (including opening of a temporary hub at Northwest Medical Center). These efforts supported the hard work of providers and treatment professionals across the state, helping bring the Chittenden County treatment waitlist to zero, which created the capacity statewide to get people into treatment quickly. We also secured an amendment to Vermont’s Global Commitment to Health 1115 Demonstration waiver, allowing Medicaid to pay for inpatient residential treatment for addiction; expanded Medication Assisted Treatment to a 120-day continuation at all Department of Corrections sites;and after Maple Leaf Treatment Center in Underhill had to close its doors in February 2018, the Agency of Human Services partnered with Valley Vista and the Recovery House Network in Rutland to ensure there would not be a gap in inpatient treatment capacity.

We will continue to provide access to workforce development and job training to enhance recovery efforts because recovery is an essential element to treatment. We launched a new initiative to have Vermont Department of Labor employment counselors make regular visits to all of Vermont’s recovery centers, providing services and guidance to help those in recovery find and keep jobs.

The question suggests reduced incarceration for “drug crimes, ” however it is important to note enforcement to reduce supply is critical to success in addressing the opioid crisis. The Vermont Drug Task Force, in partnership with federal and local law enforcement, has concluded multiple significant drug trafficking investigations involving illegal opioids and other narcotics, resulting in the arrest of hundreds of individuals for narcotics violations. These investigations targeted Vermonters responsible for distributing narcotics, including heroin, and facilitating the distribution of illegal drugs by out-of-state suppliers. I have no question crimes of distribution and trafficking illegal drugs into and throughout Vermont are offenses for which incarceration is appropriate. I also believe the expansion of Medically Assisted Treatment in corrections facilities is a new policy which must be given some time to show results. This may not reduce incarceration rates, but over time may reduce the length of sentences for some. For lesser non-violent offenses continuation and improvement of the existing programs to for pre-trial services, diversion and treatment are essential, as are additional resources for treatment courts which require intensive efforts by judges, prosecutors, service providers and defense attorneys in order to succeed.

 


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