Testimony S.281

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Written testimony: S.281

Anna Stevens, outreach director, VCJR, February 2, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this bill and the incredibly hard work you do, day in and day out to support a thriving Vermont.

I’m going to keep this brief. It’s my hope that you’ve heard an outpouring of testimony on S.281, and it is also my hope that you were already aware of the systematic racism embedded not just in our criminal justice system but across state agencies. I will speak to the criminal justice system as it is where my expertise lies.

race graph

This graph is from the state’s 2014 Vt. Dept. of Corrections report ‘Facts and Figures.’ My apologies as it is outdated, but such comprehensive data is no longer available.


Alternative Proposal to Governor Scott’s Prison Complex Plan

[This response to the Governor's prison complex was jointly written and submitted by a coalition of concerned advocates, including VCJR]

A coalition representing incarcerated individuals and their families, people of color, disability rights, civil rights, and agencies and professionals who serve vulnerable populations has reviewed Governor Scott’s plan for a 925-bed prison and mental health compound and we find it to be the wrong approach. It takes Vermont back 20 years in terms of relying on institutions instead of prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and community integration. We do not believe it will solve the societal problems that too often lead to incarceration and institutionalization, passing on suffering from one generation to the next. We do not believe it will solve the problems of over-incarceration for people of color, women, non-violent offenders, people who struggle with addiction, poor people, LGBTQ people and persons with mental health issues. The proposal is dangerous for Vermonters of color - and other vulnerable populations - and it flies in the face of our state and federal justice system’s charge and efforts to move away from incarceration and toward community-based intervention and accountability.


A Letter of Opposition: Civil Offenses are not Crimes

This letter was submitted by VCJR executive director, Tom Dalton, to the city of Burlington in response to a drafted ordinance that imposes criminal penalties on civil offenses:


Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform opposes any new city ordinance that permits the imposition of criminal penalties for civil offenses. 

As Vermonters, we are already burdened by the fiscal and human costs of unnecessary incarceration.  Our prisons are already full of poor, addicted and mentally ill people who could not get the treatment and support they needed in the community, and do not get it when they are in prison. 


A worrisome visit to Camp Hill

By Anna Stevens, outreach director

Up until last week, 269 Vt. prisoners were residing in North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan, the sole residents of the prison. On Sunday, June 11th, these men were moved 682 miles to SCI Camp Hill, Pennsylvania’s largest correctional facility with 3,620 prisoners. Some men were transported by plane. Some men were transported by bus, which in the past has resulted in a slew of horror stories describing “cages” and “bloody handcuffs.”

I had seen SCI Camp Hill just days before. 


Why we need more restorative justice

By Suzi Wizowaty, reposted from VtDigger Commentary, March 23, 2017

I have been known to say, a few hundred times, that punishment doesn’t work. That is to say, it “works” if your goal is to cause suffering. But it doesn’t work if you want to make things better as a result, for example to reduce future crime, because the human beings we punish tend to emerge more damaged as a result — that is, more prone to hurt others, rather than chastened or rehabilitated and propelled to a better, kinder, more responsible life.

The question then becomes, what’s the alternative?

There is an alternative, but look what happens when well-meaning people who want to avoid the destructive consequences of punishment are not able to access the alternative, either because it doesn’t exist or because they don’t know it exists.


Unrenewed Prison Contract is a Chance for Change

The news that GEO Group — the private prison corporation that houses 240 Vermont men in Michigan — won’t renew its contract with Vermont presents a welcome opportunity. The question now is not: Where can the state find 240 more prison beds elsewhere? The real question is: Will the state take advantage of this opportunity to stop locking up the hundreds — yes hundreds — of people whose incarceration is not just a waste of money but counterproductive?

Who are these hundreds of Vermonters?


Time to Reform Our Criminal Justice System

By Kathy Fox, UVM Professor and VCJR Board of Directors

As a board member of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, I have been asked by some people why I am so passionate about criminal justice reform. Here is why. First of all, we have a system that is very expensive (in Vermont, for example, it costs $60,000 per year to incarcerate one individual, and that is not including the police and court costs, etc.) but we have poor outcomes for our investment.


Goodbye Vermont, Welcome Pennsylvania

[Guest blog by Scott Lowe at SCI Camp Hill, Pennsylvania]

Part I, October 5, 2017

Hello, everyone! It’s me. The guy who brought you “Thinking Inside the Box, a Look at Correctional Reform from the Inside.”

Well, it has finally happened. The first busload of thirty-nine (39)  Vermont inmates left early in the morning of Wednesday, September 27th, and arrived at SCI- Camp Hill in Camp Hill Pennsylvania in the mid-afternoon that same day. Here is how the first ten (10) days of my transfer went.


Meg’s Story

End DOC discretion around "approved housing"

By Suzi Wizowaty, submitted in response to Vt DOC's request for public comment on its proposed directive about housing.  

The most recently proposed rule on determining whether or not to release on offender on furlough without approved housing would seem to offer a small improvement.  We know too many people are held for lack of approved housing.  Unfortunately, the same fundamental flaws remain as in the original statute and subsequent rule: in brief, the decision about release at the minimum sentence is still left up to the discretion of DOC staff, in direct contravention of the intention of the sentencing court


Expanding Parole for Elderly and Seriously Ill Prisoners: A Common-Sense Reform

By Larry Lewack – Op Ed / Commentary, 2.17.17

A recent study by the ACLU documents that elderly prisoners are the least dangerous group of people behind bars, but the most expensive to incarcerate. Yet the number of elderly prisoners in Vermont correctional facilities is on the increase, due in part to a legacy of harsh sentences for less serious crimes that is a legacy of our failed ‘war on drugs.’  According to the ACLU report, a typical aging prisoner costs taxpayers about twice as much to incarcerate.  With typical costs of housing an inmate now estimated above $50,000/year, this trend does not bode well for taxpayers.


Good People, Bad Mistakes

Ange Greene  Address given by Ange Greene, VCJR outreach coordinator, at  the Re-imagining Justice conference on Dec. 1 at Vermont Law School.

Good morning. My name is Ange Greene and 34 months ago I  was sentenced to 25 months at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility for assault and robbery. I was scared into a plea deal and away I went. Jail was a culture shock to say  the  very least. I found myself three days into my bid on the  floor of  the hole hallucinating and vomiting. The only things I was given  up until that point were a flat mattress, 2 green  blankets, an orange jump suit, and flip flops. All of a sudden  my cell door opened and I was told my case worker needed to  see me. I hadn’t even had a detox assessment yet. They shackled my ankles and cuffed my hands and paraded me  down the hall like  I was a caged animal.



When I learned that the price of stock in CCA and GEO Group, the world's two leading private prison companies, had plummeted (25% in one report, 35% and 50% in another), I felt a rush of glee. Then, oops, schadenfreude, I noted. It's not good to take pleasure in someone else's pain. It's the reason we don't lick our fingers after flicking out drops of wine for the ten plagues at Passover.  It's a value I genuinely hold.

And then I began to wonder, What is the difference between taking joy in someone else's pain when the someone else is a stockholder in a private prison company, and a victim's bitter satisfaction in hearing that an assailant/robber/killer is going to jail?


Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform
PO Box 8753, Burlington, VT 05402
(802) 540-0440

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Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform 
is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

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