MONTPELIER – On Thursday, the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee heard emotional testimony from victims of crime about a bill that would exclude certain offenders from receiving time off for good behavior under a recently-enacted ‘good time’ rule.
The rule was passed last year and went into effect on January 1. It allows inmates to get up to seven days off their sentence each month they meet a set of good behavior requirements.
The bill that’s being considered, S.18, would disqualify those who are being held on certain charges including murder, kidnapping and sexual assault.
One woman introduced herself to the committee as a teacher, friend, daughter, volunteer and survivor of sexual assault.
At 13, she testified in front of a packed courtroom against her attacker. She recalled how her entire body shook when all 12 jurors declared him guilty. Although no prison sentence could vanquish the years of trauma she’s endured, she said there was relief in knowing would be prevented from harming herself or others for a long time.
“I relied upon his sentence to be able to try and heal to the best of my ability, knowing I wouldn’t have to worry about him,” the woman said.
But last year, she received a call about the ‘good time’ rule.
“All the wounds from the trauma I thought were starting to heal were cut open once again. I don’t have the ability to reduce my survivor’s sentence.”
Vermont lawmakers currently considering changes to the ‘good time’ rule were struck by the testimony, particularly Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia).
“I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for 37 years now, and I’ve never heard the term ‘victim’s sentence’, that’s a very powerful statement,” Benning said. “It’s one that I promise you we will all take into account in trying to deal with this bill, and put out something that makes sense.”
The ACLU of Vermont supports the initial scope of the ‘good time’ law, and Advocacy Director Falko Schilling said that when a system starts excluding certain people, it gets more complicated to administer.
“This is in no way a get out of jail free card, this is a law that is in effect now, and it would require people who have earned the possibility of reducing their sentences to go before a parole board and make their case, where victims also have the opportunity to testify,” Schilling said. “We support making sure this system is available to everyone who’s incarcerated, because it’s one of the best tools we have to safely reduce our prison population.”
Last year, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan asked that the Legislature move to exclude those convicted of murder or sexual assault from receiving time off of their sentences.
The full text of the proposed changes under S.18 can be read here.