A small step

MONTPELIER — Vermont inmates, like those in many other states, often find upon release that they are no longer enrolled in federal housing, health care, veterans' and other benefits.

Offenders sometimes leave prison with only a few dollars in their pockets, and may have to wait weeks or months to be re-enrolled in federal programs. That makes it more difficult for former inmates to rejoin society and increases the chance they will commit another crime, officials and advocates said Thursday.

A vast majority, up to 85 percent by some estimates, of roughly 2,000 people in Vermont's prisons suffer from mental illness, substance addiction or both, according to the state.

For inmates who have a psychiatric disorder, the daunting task of applying for federal benefits becomes even more difficult, according to Eileen Elliott, a lawyer and former deputy secretary of human services who has been hired as a consultant by Vermont Association for Mental Health. That is why it is important to ensure that those inmates get help in completing the paperwork, she said.

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