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.


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?


On Punishment and Deterrence: How to Create More Victims

The question at the heart of criminal justice reform is, Do we want government to play a role in preventing crime, or simply to punish crime after the fact?

We all want to live in safe communities.  But we have over-incarcerated our population, to the extent that incarceration itself has created problems.  This should make us question our current path, and particularly the Vermont legislature’s stubborn insistence on criminalizing new behaviors and increasing penalties, when this approach is widely understood to be counterproductive.


Thinking Inside the Box

A Look at Correctional Facility Reform from Within

Guest blog by Scott Lowe, Northern State Correctional Facility

As I understand from local news reports, a forum has been opened by the Attorney General, Bill Sorrell, between the citizens of this state and his office regarding the increasing number of incarcerated persons in our jails and prisons.

With that in mind, I would like to offer the observations and thoughts of an educated 45 year old first-time felony offender, currently incarcerated in the Vermont Correctional system. Namely, myself.


Why Criminal Justice Reform Must Be a Priority in 2016

This piece first appeared as a commentary on VtDigger, January 6, 2016

With the Legislature starting this week, pressure starts to build: Which of the many compelling issues will the committees take on and which will languish until another year? What does the public most want? What can do the most good?


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.


On incremental vs. radical change

Or, the frustration of the impatient

First you notice that something is wrong. Maybe it’s a statistic: the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. Or a story: a teenager ends up labeled as a sex offender for something you agree was bad judgment, but not criminal; an innocent man is vindicated after decades of wrongful incarceration; a woman serves a drug sentence twice as long as her boyfriend’s because, not being actually involved, she has nothing to offer prosecutors in exchange.  


The right to learn and grow

Once again, the legislature is considering closing the field offices of the Community High School of Vermont.  Yes, this would save money; so would closing schools, fire departments, police stations. Government provides these public goods because we have agreed that we all need them.  The Community High School serves criminal justice-involved adults who have been failed by our educational system.  Many criminal justice-involved people have a history of trauma and often mental health or substance abuse issues, which means they need a more intensive and skilled kind of teaching. Arguably, these are people we should work the hardest to ensure have access to learning.


Statement at Press Conference on Marijuana Regulation

Cedar Creek Room, Statehouse
Montpelier, VT
Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016

Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform supports the legalization of marijuana, because criminalizing it has not worked. In fact, it was a bad idea from the beginning. That is, if the goal was to discourage people from using, it was a complete failure, as there is as much use of marijuana now as ever.


Locked Out or Locked Up

The fact that the U.S. imprisons more people (per capita and in sheer numbers) than any other country is an embarrassment and a scandal.  It happened over time as a result of state and national policies and will take time to reverse.  But the fact that the U.S. has virtually closed its borders to Syrian refugees is more than embarrassing, it’s a moral outrage.  Yes, President Obama has proposed to allow 10,000 Syrians to enter the U.S. But as the Berliner Morganspost reports, that “is how many Syrians arrived in Munich last weekend alone.”


Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform
PO Box 8753, Burlington, VT 05402
(802) 503-0601

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

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