Letter: Less Is More on Public Safety

To the Editor:

We support U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s recent policy reforms, chief among them that federal prosecutors reserve the most severe penalties for the most violent and high-level drug dealers. The policy implemented last month by the nation’s top law enforcement official also sought greater flexibility on elderly, nonviolent inmates’ sentences, and expanded use of alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders. Holder stated, “We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter, and rehabilitate — not to merely warehouse and forget.”

These proposals very likely will enhance public safety and result in a more efficient use of tax dollars. Similar efforts at the state and local level could provide even more safety and savings. In fiscal year 2012, the Vermont Department of Corrections cost each Vermonter about $221. How much lower might this be if more economical alternate sentencing programs still provided for public safety? During the same period, the cost to residents of Maine and New Hampshire was considerably lower ($161 and $127 respectively). What are these states doing more efficiently than Vermont?

Another aspect of the criminal justice system where public safety could be maintained at much lower cost is pretrial detention. In Broward County, Fla., supervised pretrial release costs about $7 per day, while incarceration costs $115 per day. If we could realize similar savings in Vermont, how much lower might our taxes be? At $221 per Vermonter for fiscal year 2012, what will the state department of corrections’ costs be in 2013, 2014, 2015 ...? In this time of continued economic uncertainty, public safety and fiscal responsibility must go hand in hand.

John W. Vorder Bruegge

And the students of his current events class

Community High School of Vermont

Springfield, Vt.