Locals supervise public safety

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Colchester residents, DOC staffers earn gov’s re-appointment

Dale Crook, a career veteran of Vermont’s Department of Corrections, knows what you’re thinking: Yes, that’s his real last name.

“In some ways, it’s a pretty good icebreaker – ‘I’m not the only crook in corrections,’” the longtime Colchester resident said. “It’s a way to kind of break down the barriers to engage with people.”

That’s been a critical task over Crook’s career, during which he’s assumed roles from corrections officer to probation officer to his current gig as commissioner of the Vermont Council for Interstate Adult Supervision.

In September, Crook was reappointed to the latter position until 2019, one of 55 appointments to state boards and commissions made that month by Gov. Phil Scott.

The Interstate Compact of Adult Offender Supervision is an agreement between all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C. that allows people on probation and parole to transfer between states.

The compact carries the force and effect of federal law, Crook explained, meaning a judge can’t order an offender to live in a certain state. For instance, Crook said, if someone from New Hampshire commits a crime in Vermont, it’s pointless to order that offender to remain here when his family, employment and best resources for rehabilitation are across state lines.

Crook’s role as commissioner pairs well with his full-time DOC job, in which he supervises 10 probation and parole district offices, which in turn oversee 7,700 offenders on 11 different legal statuses, the state website shows.

Though his surname might suggest he was destined for the job, Crook didn’t foresee a career in corrections. He came out of college unsure of his plan and followed a friend to a job in a South Burlington prison; a few years later, he went out in the field, first as a community CO and later as a probation officer.

“It was both extremely rewarding and sometimes kind of heartbreaking,” Crook said. “We had successes, and we had failures.”

In the field and the central office alike, Crook and his colleagues rely on evidence-based risk assessments to help them make difficult decisions with shifting variables.

“We have to walk a very fine line of public safety and offender rehabilitation,” Crook said. “People make mistakes. Sometimes people go out and do bad things in supervision, and sometimes people go out and change their lives around and become productive members of society.”

The hope, of course, is for the latter, and Crook said Vermont’s DOC, though driven by statute and mission statements, is “very forward-thinking.”

“We believe people can change, and we work to supervise people in the least restrictive environments,” he said. “A lot of times it’s hard for the general public to see that. Everybody wants people to go to jail, then if we have too many people in jail, [they question it].”

The nation is “over-incarcerated,” Crook said, and he believes the DOC has succeeded in using prison sentences more effectively in recent years.

“We’ve done a good job using incarceration and using our jail beds for those that really need it,” he said. “The [offenders] we have control over, we try to manage that risk and also understand that most … positive change is going to come out in the community.”

Offenders need to find and retain employment, practice and even re-learn life skills to change their behaviors and reintegrate into society, he added, and that can’t happen behind bars.

“Most people that come through our systems get released,” Crook said. “Really our job is to help them become returning citizens.”

On the other side of the spectrum is Glenn Boyde, another Colchester resident included in Gov. Scott’s latest round of appointments. Boyde was reappointed to the State Police Advisory Commission, a seven-member civilian group designed to review rules and policies that govern Vermont’s police force.

Like Crook, Boyde also works in the DOC – he’s a full-time supervisor in the probation office – but his role on the commission is separate. A former VSP colonel asked him to apply for a vacant spot about five years ago, Boyde recalled, so he did.

Since then, most of the commission’s work has occurred in executive session, Boyde said, but the group has notably made recommendations about racial profiling and unbiased policing.

That’s a hot button issue nationwide, and Vermont is not immune to controversy. The Black Lives Matter movement has emerged as a rallying cry in response to excessive – and at times deadly – force by law enforcement against people of color, and a recent study by University of Vermont professors identified statewide disparity in police stops by driver race.

Based on 2015 data, the study found black drivers in Vermont were nearly twice as likely to be arrested after a traffic stop than white drivers. Black drivers were also more likely to be stopped and ticketed and four times more likely to be searched after a stop, despite data showing white drivers often had more contraband.

Boyde said the issue is a major concern for the commission and the department of public safety as a whole: “They go over that data all the time,” he said.

One strategy to combat that disparity is to diversify the police force – a goal officials share – but Boyde admitted that’s a difficult feat “when you live in the second whitest state in the nation.”

It requires looking out-of-state and making concerted efforts to retain recruits, but the benefits of doing so are obvious, Boyde said.

“The state police are taking great strides in that,” he added. “I believe [VSP] are actually on the cutting edge on how they train the troopers around that and around diversity … and not coming across as being really abrasive.”

Though the commission has oversight into other internal matters, the race issue is the most pressing to Boyde, who says VSP has made it a priority over the past four years – particularly with regard to hiring practices.

“They saw that as the biggest problem they were going to have in the future,” he said. “That’s where they’ve really kind of grabbed ahold of the reins.”