Senate Finance chair eyes fed $$ to keep jails and prisons funded and safe

by Dylan Streb, Community News Service

The state of Vermont is looking to use money left over from COVID relief to fix staffing shortages at jails and prisons alongside an overworked and understaffed state legislature.

The available money is made up of $600 million in COVID relief money from Congress, as well as $2.2 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act. Both pots of money have yet to be fully allocated.

Sen. Jane Kitchel

Keeping workers at many state-run facilities is top of mind for Sen. Jane Kitchel, a democrat who represents Caledonia County and runs the Senate budget-writing committee.  In jails and prisons, the state faces an extreme staffing shortage.

“It’s very difficult to hire correctional officers and so we are looking at how to use money to keep the workforce in place and give either an incentive to take that job or to remain there,” Kitchel said. 

$6 million may go toward pay adjustments and bonuses for correctional workers, she said.

Kitchel, who has overseen yearly adjustments to the state’s budget since 2009, noted that usually the adjustments are small and done to continue the function of government. However, this year things are different.

“This year, the budget adjustments are much larger, so there’s money being proposed for more housing, more money for workforce, trying to deal with the retention issue,” Kitchel said, “it’s much broader in its additional funding than just simply recalibrating.”

Many legislators are overworked and understaffed, and the increased amount of labor brought on by the pandemic has been difficult to navigate.

“Out of 180 people, the workload is not equally distributed,” Kitchel said. “There’s just money and funding and those decisions have just sucked all the oxygen out of the room.”

Technology in some ways has helped by allowing government function to continue with staff working from home. But, the continued use of applications such as Zoom can cause fatigue.

“It’s not only meetings, it’s not only committee work, it’s not only trying to figure out how to put all the pieces together, but the number of emails that you’re getting in the course of the day, just make you feel buried,” Kitchel said.

6 replies »

  1. I hear a lot of crabbing from Sen. Kitchel about zoom, work loads, yata, yata yata. During the pandemic all those considered to be “essential” worked through it. Meanwhile our Legislators are still working from home. What do I glean from that ? Either they have found it to their advantage, or otherwise like it, or it’s their way of admitting that they really just aren’t that essential……

  2. Ask Representative Jane Kitchel : WHY is the cost to house ONE inmate in Vermont 3-4 times the cost of most other states in the country??

    Last time I checked ( a few years ago ) Cost per male inmate / year : $52,500 . Cost per female inmate / year : $82,500

    How many of YOU , the working , law-abiding taxpayers of vermont , would LOVE to make $82,500 a year with zero experience??

    • The GENDER INEQUITY between the costs of housing male vs female inmates has existed for years now. How about instead using some of those funds to staff a board to investigate this horrible injustice and bring the cost of maintaining a female inmate DOWN to the level of males.
      As for the “overworked” legislature, that’s an easy fix. Convene in January, pass a budget and GO HOME. We have enough laws on the books.

    • I tried, but it would not let me like that twice Scott ! I’ve always thought that if we want to save money on incarcerating criminal ? Send them to Turkey, and let them house” them !

    • How is that cost justified?? Put them in jail, feed them bologna sandwiches all 3 meals, and put a ball and chain on them while they clean up the road sides and the towns. Stop making jail a “good” place to be instead of a punishment . This applies to men and women!! That should help cut the costs!!

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