Vermont is still struggling to reduce its pandemic-era court case backlog
The Vermont Judiciary is still struggling to reduce a pandemic-induced backlog of court cases.
According to judiciary data, there are more than 15,000 criminal cases pending as of late December. That's double the amount of pending cases pre-pandemic.
Teri Corsones is the state court administrator. She says the judiciary was down five judges this year.
"As a result, a number of judges had to cover more than one county or more than one dockets," Corsones says. "So that prevented us from scheduling and processing more cases and more hearings as a result."
Corsones says there's currently only one judicial vacancy.
And she expects that next year — with more judges on the bench — the judiciary will make more progress on the backlog.
But in the meantime, because of the backlog, Vermont's pre-trial detainee population remains higher than pre-pandemic levels.
That’s meant that hundreds of people have languished in prison without being convicted of a crime, and in some cases, people have served longer sentences that they would have otherwise.
Department of Corrections Commissioner Nick Deml says the pre-trial detainee population has hovered around 400 this year.
"Here's a significant core backlog that remains. And so I think that's the X factor, when we look at projections for what a detainee population could look like in the future is, well, how many of the folks that are in the backlog are going to be either cleared and kept away from the justice system or put into the justice system?" Deml says.
The state's prison population is getting older — and sicker. And 60% of people in prison have opioid use disorder.
Deml says the agency hopes to expand a program that pairs incarcerated people with formerly incarcerated recovery coaches.
"Then when those individuals went out in the community, those same coaches are available in the community," Deml says. "And so there's that continuity of care as individuals leave our facility."
Deml says he also wants the agency to develop more holistic treatment programs for incarcerated people.
"We know that an individual's health is not just the delivery of health care to them. It's not just meeting with your provider. It's also nutrition, it's wellness programs. It's significantly in our system, it's mental health," Deml says.
There's been an uptick in deaths in Vermont prisons in recent years — including 11 fatalities this year.
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