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.
Cedar Creek Room, Statehouse
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.