Changes in Vermont House Arrest Program
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ A controversial house arrest program in Vermont can’t be used in the future by drug offenders like John Zaccaro Jr., who served a cocaine trafficking term in a $1,500-a-month luxury apartment.
Gov. Madeleine Kunin on Thursday barred drug sellers from the program. The state’s corrections commissioner said the change was effective immediately for those not yet admitted, but it will not affect Zaccaro or others already in the program.
Kunin’s move came after public outcry over the disclosure that Zaccaro, the 24-year-old son of former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, was living in the posh apartment with maid service while in the program. It allows non-violent criminals to find their own housing and live outside of prison while under strict supervision.
Zaccaro was convicted in April of selling $25 worth of cocaine to an undercover police officer. He was sentenced to four months in prison, but spent 29 minutes in the Chittenden Community Correctional Center in July before being moved to his new apartment.
But Kunin defended the program overall Thursday, saying it provided the necessary element of punishment and helped to reduce overcrowding in Vermont’s prisons. However, she said the program must exclude drug dealers.
″We must have confidence, public confidence in the system,″ she said at a news conference. ″I also feel that we have to send a very strong message in terms of drug offenders.″
Under changes Kunin announced, drug offenders like Zaccaro will be considered to be more serious criminals and thus not eligible for the program. The changes are effective immediately for those not yet admitted, said Corrections Commissioner Joseph Patrissi.
″Instead of considering this to be a low to moderate offense as it had been in the past, it should be moved up because I think anyone who sells drugs anywhere in the world, in this country, in the state of Vermont, is a serious offender,″ Kunin said.
″Hallelujah 3/8″ said Addison County States Attorney John Quinn on learning of Kunin’s plan. ″I never considered that drug dealers were non-violent offenders. I never thought they should be in the house arrest program no matter who they are.″
Quinn prosecuted Zaccaro on the drug charge and opposed the decision to place him in the house arrest program.
Other changes Kunin made would require all offenders in the program to spend at least 24 hours in jail.