[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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.