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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.