07.21.10

Vermont Department Of Corrections Commissioner Testifies Before Leahy-Chaired Panel

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, July 21, 2010) – The Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections testified today before a Senate panel chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).  The hearing focused on state and local efforts to help inmates successfully and effectively reintegrate into their communities upon release.

VT DOC Commissioner Andrew Pallito
Senator Patrick Leahy and Commissioner Andrew Pallito of the Vermont Department of Corrections speak briefly before the start of a Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the efficacy of the Second Chance Act.

The Second Chance Act was first passed in 2008, and authorized federal grants for state and local governments and organizations to help provide literacy classes, job training, education programs, and substance abuse and rehabilitation programs for inmates.  The act is also intended to promote safety and improve communities by ensuring that people will become productive members of society, rather than returning to a life of crime, when they are released from prison.  The hearing Wednesday focused on the success of the grant programs authorized by the Second Chance Act.

“The Second Chance Act helps to fund collaborations between state and local corrections agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, service providers, and families to ensure that offenders released into society have the resources and support they need to become contributing members of the community,” said Leahy.  “The Vermont Department of Corrections and many others in Vermont have strongly supported this crucial piece of legislation, which gives me confidence that it is an important step in making our country safer.”

Commissioner Andrew Pallito of the Vermont Department of Corrections testified at the hearing and discussed the successes of the Vermont Department of Corrections in transitioning offenders back into the community through increased citizen participation.  The Department has maintained a strong mentoring program, matching offenders with a “Circle of Support and Accountability,” a group of individuals trained to help inmates reintegrate into the local community.

“Over the past few years, my department has been engaging and educating communities throughout the state about the importance of solid release planning for all offenders, including those with very violent histories,” Pallito said at the hearing.  “What differentiates Vermont’s response to reentry from traditional approaches across the country is the philosophical foundation of restorative justice principles and community involvement.  By providing returning offenders with high measures of support and accountability, fostering meaningful, participatory community connections, and leveraging the informal social influence exercised by families and neighbors, we effectively compliment best correctional practices for a more successful reentry process for offenders.”

Member statements and witness testimony from the hearing on “The Second Chance Act: Strengthening Safe and Effective Community Reentry” can be viewed online.

# # # # #

 

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
The Second Chance Act:  Strengthening Safe And Effective Community Reentry
July 21, 2010 


Today, the Committee considers the important issue of how best to ensure that when people get out of prison, they become productive members of society, rather than returning to a life of crime.  Many states are making great strides with innovative prisoner reentry programs, and we will hear about some of those efforts today.  In 2008, we passed the Second Chance Act to give Federal, state and local governments additional tools to help inmates more successfully reintegrate into their communities upon release, and we will hear about the impact this important legislation is beginning to have nationwide. 

The Senate recognized the value of the Second Chance Act when, after a great deal of work and compromise, the bill was passed unanimously.  Next year, the Act will need to be reauthorized, and I hope that we can again work with bipartisanship to extend these important programs.  I was pleased to work with Senator Brownback, Senator Specter, and then-Senator Biden to pass the Second Chance Act, and I look forward to hearing about the good work that has come from it.  I know Senator Cardin has a strong interest in this area.  I would also thank Senator Whitehouse both for his leadership on prison reform and reentry and for helping with today’s hearing. 

In the past few decades, Congress and the states have passed several new criminal laws creating more and longer sentences for more and more crimes.  As a result, this country sends more and more people to prison every year.  There are currently more than two million people in jail or prison, and more than 13 million people spend some time in jail or prison each yearMost of these people will at some point return to our communities.  What kind of experience inmates have in prison, how we prepare them to rejoin society, and how we integrate them into the broader community when they are released are issues that profoundly affect the communities in which we live. 

Even before we passed the Second Chance Act, Vermont and other states were implementing innovative programs to build safer and stronger communities by ensuring that people leaving prison receive the services that help them become productive members of society and keep them from committing additional crimes.

The Second Chance Act builds on this important work by funding collaborations between state and local corrections agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, service providers, and families to ensure that offenders released into society have the resources and support they need to become contributing members of the community.  The bill requires that the programs supported by these grants demonstrate measurable positive results, including a reduction in recidivism.  It takes an important step toward the goal of reducing the nationwide recidivism rate of 66 percent and decreasing the annual nationwide $8.2 billion dollar cost of incarceration.

The Vermont Department of Corrections and many others in Vermont have strongly supported this crucial piece of legislation, which gives me confidence that it is an important step in making our country safer.  We are joined today by Commissioner Andrew Pallito from the Vermont Department of Corrections, who will share with us his experience with reentry programs in Vermont.  I know that Commissioner Pallito has had great success developing reentry programs and educating the community about their importance, and I look forward to hearing more about his innovative and exciting work in Vermont.

I am also pleased to welcome Le’Ann Duran from the National Reentry Resource Center, and Sol Rodriguez from OpenDoors in Rhode Island.  We will hear her thoughts on how Second Chance Act support has strengthened safe and effective community reentry in Rhode Island and nationwide.

As a former prosecutor, I believe strongly in securing tough and appropriate prison sentences for people who break our laws.  But it is also important that we do everything we can to ensure that when these people get out of prison, they enter our communities as productive members of society, so we can start to reverse the dangerous cycles of recidivism and violence.  The Second Chance Act helps break this cycle.  

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693