Who pays?

The governor has been talking about cutting down on the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent crimes as, primarily, a budget measure. It’s expensive locking people up and he would rather see the state diverting those offenders — often with addictions to drugs and/or alcohol — into community-based programs.

It’s a fine idea, unless you live someplace with a jail and a probation office — Rutland, VT 05701, for instance — in which case it means an inordinate number of hollowed-out people stumbling around from drink to drink or fix to fix. Understand that about two of every three people who have served a short (up to one year) sentence for a drug crime, typically possession, will be arrested for another crime with three years of release. Forty percent don’t make it a year between arrests.

To support their habits, many of them turn to other crimes. That makes living in one of those high-parolee communities a pain in the butt. In the past year, my wife had her purse and cell phone stolen from her car and I lost my best saw from the garage.

Now, thieves are targeting houses posted for sale, breaking in and cutting out every scrap of copper they can get their nasty little hands on. It’s still a property crime; the value of the copper is maybe a couple of hundred bucks, so what’s the big deal? The system puts them back out on the street so the state taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill.

But what about the homeowner? Replacing all the copper wires and water pipes, plus repairing any damage caused by the thieves ripping out the copper, can easily run over $10,000. If there isn’t sufficient insurance, the homeowner is out of pocket. At the least, it drives up insurance rates. And good luck getting restitution from an OxyContin addict.

I’m sympathetic to the need to keep low-level addicts out of the prisons. But the state needs to put aside a large pool of money — say, half the expected savings on reduced incarcerations — into a victims’ restitution fund, and then make it quick and easy for someone targeted by one of these (poor, downtrodden who are not being well served by our prisons and overworked, underfunded treatment programs) low-level criminals to be made whole by the state. Otherwise, it’s shifting the cost of corrections from the state’s general fund to the residents of Rutland, Springfield, Barre, St. J., Windsor …

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