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.
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 My apologies as it is outdated, but such comprehensive data is no longer available.
What we see is a disturbing trend, a disproportionate increase in the incarceration of ‘black’ people. According to the Sentencing Project’s 2016 report ‘The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons’ Vermont incarcerates a higher rate of of black and brown men than any other state, with 1 in 14 black and brown men behind bars. Likewise, nationally black and brown people are incarcerated in state correctional facilities at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites. Vermont is one of five states in which the disparity is more than 10 to 1. We have work to do.
When I look at that graph, I am reminded that systemic racism isn’t disentangling itself from our institutions. It is going to take state funded and independent data driven initiatives to mitigate systematic racism. S.281 outlines a strong plan to do so. On behalf of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, we ask that you vote the bill out of Government Operations.
Thank you for your time,
Outreach director, VCJR