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Will “data-based” sentencing result in more profiling?

by David N. Adair, Jr. VCJR Board of Directors

With the recent passage of S.295 (now Act 195), Vermont has enthusiastically embraced use of data-driven analytical tools to assess the risks and needs of offenders in the hopes of providing a more effective and appropriate response to crime. 

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State Incarceration Rates in the Global Context

by David N. Adair, Jr. VCJR Board of Directors

Did you know that 36 states and the District of Columbia incarcerate their citizens at rates higher than Cuba?  And that Vermont, which has the lowest incarceration rate in the United States, ranks between Guyana and Colombia?

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Relief for those serving harsh drug sentences

By David N. Adair, Jr.

It was widely reported last week that on July 18 the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to permit Federal judges to reduce the sentences of up to 46,290 Federal drug offenders.  In April the Commission had reduced the base guideline levels for most Federal drug offenses but did not permit judges to reduce sentences previously imposed. 

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Beware the "War on Heroin"

“Vermont’s war on heroin progresses slowly” (April 10). “Vermont’s war on heroin fills court docket” (July 14).  These recent headlines from the Burlington Free Press should give us all pause. They are designed to pique interest and sell papers; okay, that’s the paper’s job. But they also are designed, consciously or not, to generate fear. You wage war against a fearsome enemy. After all, war is typically a last resort to a problem. It’s extreme, it’s dramatic, and if you’re a politician, using this rhetoric can earn you publicity and votes.

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Now What?

With the legislative session over, we turn our attention to next steps. So many needs, addressed by so much good work, and yet... So what's next?

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“Everyone is better than the worst thing they’ve ever done”

This past Saturday, Sister Helen Prejean (pronounced “pray-jah”) spoke at a dinner for Vermont Dismas, the organization that provides housing in several locations around the state for men and women coming out of jail.  Perhaps best known for her book, Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen has spent her life advocating on behalf of poor people and against the death penalty. Dead Man Walking is the story of her experience with a man on death row, whom she corresponded with, then served as spiritual advisor, and finally accompanied to his death. It was made into a film, a play, and an opera.

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Piper Kerman Wows Vermont

piperPiper Kerman was in Vermont today, to talk with the women at the South Burlington prison this afternoon and with students at UVM tonight.  She’s the author of Orange is the New Black, her powerful memoir of a year spent in federal prison in Danbury, CT. 

The highly regarded Netflix series based on the book will begin its second season on June 6.

Over lunch with a few of us today at August First, Piper talked about what we need to do to fix this broken criminal justice system—particularly sentencing reform (especially of drug laws), and better representation of public defendants.  We agree!  The evidence is overwhelming that harsh sentencing practices have no positive impact on public safety or individuals’ lives, and waste taxpayers’ money besides.   And public defenders are notoriously overworked, with caseloads that sometimes leave them only minutes to meet with a client before entering the courtroom.

We’re so grateful to Piper for sharing her story with us, in her book and in person, especially at the women’s prison, where the turnout filled the gym.  And we’re excited that she’ll be back to do a fundraiser for us later in the year!  Keep a look-out!

Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime?

by David N. Adair, Jr. VCJR Board of Directors

The Sentencing Project has released a new publication that highlights the experience of three states, all of which have reduced their prison populations while experiencing reductions in crime. 

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The Failed Drug War Continues

by David N. Adair, Jr,  VCJR Board of Directors

Nearly every day, it seems, there are reports that this nation’s sentencing laws and practices are destructive and irrational.  But lately there have been signs that the drug warriors are not giving up without a fight.

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The Incarcerated Women’s Initiative—Then and Now

The number of women in jail has grown in Vermont as it has elsewhere—1,000% over twenty years, from 15 in 1985 to 167 in 2006.  In 2005, concerned about the trend, then-Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Mike Smith charged the agency to address this.Thus the Incarcerated Women’s Initiative was born.

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Collateral consequences of criminal conviction act to take effect Jan. 1, 2016

H 413 gives people with a criminal record two ways to apply to the court for relief from some of the restrictions that accompany a conviction.

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New Advisory Council Takes Off

Infinite Culcleasure
Chair, VCJR Advisory Council
“Obviously we’ve really got no say in the matter, we can only file paperwork until it falls on a person’s desk who cares and has the want and capability to do something. Although I’ve been told by the older cats not to hold my breath, I’ve got to do something to feel like I’m trying to better the situation.” – Earl

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The Problem with Longer Sentences

What are we to make of Governor Shumlin's recent focus on opiate addiction in his state-of-the-state address? On the one hand we have the admirable proposal to treat addiction as a public health issue. No argument there; all evidence points to recovery from addiction as a process, as it is from every other illness. On the other hand, the proposal comes embedded in get-tough-on-crime assurances that have troubling echoes.

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Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform
PO Box 8753, Burlington, VT 05402
(802) 540-0440

Contact us:
anna.vcjr@gmail.com

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

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