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September 23, 2010

Lite Guv Candidate Howard Differs with Shumlin on Prisoner-Release Plan

Howard221 State Rep. Steve Howard, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, is splitting with Peter Shumlin on his prisoner release plan, saying Vermont shouldn't let nonviolent offenders out of jail until there are more treatment facilities ready to receive them.

Howard (pictured) made the comments in a wide-ranging interview with Seven Days today over coffee at Mirabelles cafe in Burlington.

Howard agrees with Shumlin, the state Senate president and Democratic nominee for governor, that health care and corrections are the two big "budget busters" in Vermont state government. But he said the state should find other ways to cut corrections costs, "not by releasing prisoners."

"I wouldn't agree with Sen. Shumlin on that plan," Howard said. "I live in Rutland. I started a neighborhood association because of an increase in crime. I don't necessarily agree with his approach 100 percent."

Shumlin has called for cutting $40 million annually from the Department of Corrections budget by transitioning 780 nonviolent offenders from jail into community programs for mental illness and substance abuse.

Shumlin's plan has become the most divisive issue in the gubernatorial campaign so far, with Dubie saying in a new radio ad that "Shumlin's plan would turn drug dealers and child pornographers out on the street long before their sentences were served." State Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, fired back today, slamming Dubie for using "Willie Horton"-style scare tactics.

Howard said Vermont communities like Rutland, Barre, Burlington and St. Albans need more drug treatment facilities before prisoners can be let out of jail.

"Don't release people until the infrastructure is in the communities that will help solve the problem that got them into trouble in the first place," Howard said. "We don't have that."

Howard stressed that Shumlin is "right" that the ballooning corrections budget is a problem and that Vermont's recidivism rate is too high. But he adds, "I don't think we can do it as fast as he wants to do it until we have invested in the infrastructure in the communities."

Asked whether he thought the corrections department could cut $40 million a year, Howard said he wasn't sure they could do it "right away" but predicted the state would see savings on that order if more transitional facilities were in place.

"I share [Shumlin's] sentiment, but not the policy," Howard said.

Steve Howard's notion would seem to fitting for those inmates or former inmates in need of such treatment or transitional facilities if only for the problem that most communities do not want them in their backyard either.

If this problem was not posed or asked of him, I wonder why not, since it is something that has come up often.

One also wonders why such inmates are not being offered more of these types of intensive and properly funded services and supports while they are still in prison when it could help begin to make a difference rather than either offering nothing at all or, in those cases such treatment or facilities do exist in certain communities and there is not a huge waiting list before they can become engaged, sometime after they finally get out of prison and, then, when it can be too little too late as well as a set up for failure of sorts in one form or another. Simply keeping such offenders in prison without these types of needed services as well as supports and then having either limited services and supports available or nothing at all for them when they finally get out once their time is served is not a viable solution. This approach does nothing to keep communities safer either. It is also no wonder why there is such a huge turnaround of people re-offending and then returning to prison again and again.

It would seem to make more sense and probably cost much less all around to find ways to do differently and at least Peter Shumlin is helping to create the means to have this needed public discussion.

What Steve Howard is proposing might sound good, however one if left to wonder exactly what and how much has he done along these lines during his time as a state legislator?

In addition and, even more importantly, what is he willing to do if elected as Lt. Governor along these lines and actually do his part to get the job done?

Talk is cheap Mr. Howard!

This is coming from someone without a horse in either race.

Mr. Brown, we are looking at a $120 million state budget deficit next year. What current programs are you planning to cut, and how much money will those cuts provide, in order to offer these new rehabilitation services you think we should be offering in our prisons? How much of a tax hike are you suggesting that you and I and every other Vermonter should be burdened with to pay for these new services?


Webber: Not being in office, nor running for such, I will not be in a position to do address such and so am exercising the only option I do have as a citizen, which is to share my opinion on the subject.

The fact is what it should rather be about is using existing funding that, at least in certain cases, is often spent in the most costly of ways and in some cases redirecting what given portions of it are used for as well as refocusing how it is used.

If such services and supports are not provided in some form when they could prove to be most helpful, then it will indeed cost more to continue to do what we're doing now and there might have to be additional budget cuts -- which is part of why and how we're in the mess we're in now due to the high cost of doing business as we're doing in corrections now, etc. -- or, quite possibly much like you suggested in the form of tax hikes in order to make up for it; neither of which are good or viable options in my opinion.

Mr. Brown, when we have a $120 budget deficit to fill already, you are advocating for new services that will obviously cost money. Yet you have declined to say what you would cut from the state budget in order to fund this service, or simply say that we should raise taxes to pay for it. That move is not allowed in the game of "Let's Play State Budget." The rules are quitre clear: a player can't propose new government services without either cutting something else or proposing new taxes. Therefore, I'm afraid you are therefore ejected from the game.

BTW, if it makes you feel any better, Dubie and Shumlin have already been ejected from the game as well.

Webber: none of this is a game, at least not to me, nor am I a player. am only a citizen and, as one am free to express my opinions concerning what is our mutual government and, no one, even you, can eject me from being able to do so. this is not survivor. in addition, since they are already provided to others within the community, these are not new services, they merely are what is needed to be provided to people without access to them; hopefully before things turn worse, but certainly once someone shows both a need as well as a willingness for such, like certain people who come within the criminal justice and correctional systems. within the state budgeting process, there is always the means to find another way besides cutting elsewhere or raising further revenue (which is not always in the form of additional taxes; e.g., sometimes for services and programs like these there is federal funding available should states elect to provide such) and it can come down to shifting how and where the state spends some of it money, which is sort of what the Challenges for Change process is purported to be about.

You are getting more and more vague as this thread goes on. Maybe you should run for office.

You keep trying to make all this about me and it is not, which is why I refuse to be baited by you into what is your line of rationalization, etc.

Morgan, Per your questions in your first comment. I followed up with Steve Howard to get some clarification.

On NIMBYism and how you persuade towns to host more transitional beds, here's what Howard told me:

"There was a proposal in my district to put transitional housing in the middle of my district next to a daycare center that was sort of foisted upon my constituents without any warning and without any dialogue. And I opposed it and said, 'You can't do it this way.' It was just done the wrong way.

"The way we have to organize this is to, first of all, have a broad discussion in every community in the state about our responsibility to participate in restorative justice. It's what we should be doing to help folks coming out of prison transition successfully and not go back to cost the taxpayers money. It's not just a social justice issue, it's also an economic and a budget issue. We'd have to bring all the parties together and have them be given a voice and an opportunity to be part of the planning process and then we have to go door-to-door and we have to have rational discussions."

Howard also added that state policy often depends too much on "experts" testifying in Montpelier and not enough on Vermonters on "the ground level." He also favors payments to communities that host transitional facilities, in recognition of the added costs associated with those facilities.

On what he's done about the issue as a legislator:

"We just passed a bill this yer that ... prioritizes communities that have a larger share of the burden for re-entry programs. [We put] a cap on the number of folks that could be in a certain community. I really feel, and many of my constituents do, that this is a responsibility that belongs to everybody in the state and not just the ones that are shouldering it at the moment. There was also language in there that said funding that is available — for transitional beds, drug treatment, job training — should be prioritized for those communities that have higher numbers of folks coming out of prison and that includes Rutland, Barre, St. Albans and Burlington. That's the approach we need to take but this is a conversation that's going to take a lot of ground work and leg work and it's not going to be done in the corridors of power in Montpelier."

Don't know if that clears anything up, but that's what he told me.

P.S. I got a press release today from the Dubie campaign indicating this post has already inspired a pro-Dubie robo-call by Barre Mayor Tom Lauzon.

"The way we have to organize this is to, first of all, have a broad discussion in every community in the state about our responsibility to participate in restorative justice. It's what we should be doing to help folks coming out of prison transition successfully and not go back to cost the taxpayers money. It's not just a social justice issue, it's also an economic and a budget issue. We'd have to bring all the parties together and have them be given a voice and an opportunity to be part of the planning process and then we have to go door-to-door and we have to have rational discussions."

That's a bunch of weasel language to cover for his NIMBYism.

In other words, I'm a liberal, so I say feel-good stuff like, we need more transitional houses for people coming out of prison. BUT, don't build them in my town, until we have a "broad discussion" and "bring all the parties together" and "give them a voice."

What a bunch of hypocritical crap.

Newsflash to Stevie: even when the whole state sits down in a big circle and holds hands and gives their "voice" on transitional housing, no one's gonna volunteer to have it in their town. So either the prisoners will stay in jail, or the state is gonna site the transitional housing in somebody's backyard.

The people who are advocating to let the prisoners out of jail should be the first on the list to have the transitional housing in their neighborhood. So put it right next to Stevie's house.

Appreciate your follow-up efforts on this Andy. Thank you.

Not to provide you with even more work or to tell you how to do your job either, however given these additional statements from Lt. Guv candidate Steve Howard along with his previous ones in providing context, it would also be good to hear anything both Peter Shumlin and State Senator Dick Sears would have to say on the subject as well.

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