by Flora Scott
In March of 2021 Rep. Sara Coffey (D-Guilford) introduced the bill H.399. The bill would require the court to consider rehabilitative alternatives instead of incarceration for defendants with at least one child 18 years old or younger.
H399 requires that “unless a sentence of incarceration is required by law, the sentencing court shall, upon conviction, consider the defendant’s status as primary caretaker of a dependent child, including any family impact statement offered, and consider alternatives to incarceration before imposing a sentence. If the court does impose a sentence of incarceration, it shall consider the defendant’s status as primary caretaker of a dependent child in determining the term of incarceration.”
According to Rep. Coffey, Vermont does not track the number of prisoners with minor children. She hopes to reduce the number of incarcerated people through court diversion.
As a ballpark figure, she said that about 5400 people are now under Dept. of Corrections community supervision, far fewer than the 8,000 in 2019 because of progressive legislation which has the ultimate goal is statewide decarceration and the eventual abolition of systems of punishment.
She and her legislative colleagues have been working with The Council on State Governments Justice Center over the past few years to reduce corrections and related criminal justice spending, and to reinvest the savings in strategies aimed at reducing crime and recidivism.
Others sponsors of H399:
Rep. Lynn Batchelor (since retired)
The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.