Community, lawmakers discuss parole system

Some say a problem with the state parole system is leading to repeat offenders and more tax dollars spent to keep people in jail.
At a community meeting Saturday, lawmakers heard from several citizens who said the parole system is broken.
The parole system is a subject Kathleen Countryman has unfortunately become very familiar with as her two sons struggle with drug addictions.
"It has escalated to stealing, getting money to buy more drugs, burglarizing homes," Countryman said. "So they have both been in the justice system."
Countryman said she isn't making excuses for them, but came to the community meeting to grab the ear of lawmakers and advocate for change in the parole system.
She believes the system breeds repeat offenders because they don't know what other opportunities are out there.
"There has to be some assistance there, provided in some way to let them go beyond being a criminal," Countryman said.
Dawne Vandiver agrees.
Vandiver was appointed to the parole board only weeks ago, but has identified what she believes is a fundamental problem.
"The number one thing that they have trouble with getting is jobs," Vandiver said.
Last regular session, Sen. Joyce Elliot pushed through parole reform known as Act 570.
She calls it a good law, but admits the system and funding for the reforms are not in place.
Sen. Elliot hopes to correct that this year.
"I've been looking at legislation to come up with a system for re-entry just as we have a system for putting people into the prison system," Sen. Elliot said.
Countryman hopes it could finally help her sons break out of the prison cycle.
Getting the funding could be tough but Countryman believes that money is already being wasted.
"What people need to look at is how much funding is going into our prison system and our jail system and is it making a difference," Countryman said.
Sen. Elliot plans to introduce a parole system reform bill this session.