VCJR advocates for a broad array of policy goals to minimize Vermonters’ involvement with the criminal justice system. We support alternative (restorative) responses to interpersonal harm and bad behavior generally. We oppose all state-sponsored activity that creates suffering.
In conjunction with our allies in the Justice Coalition, which we convene, VCJR also supports particular issues and initiates bills in the Vt. legislature. Our priorities in 2017:
Statistically, “criminality” peaks at age 25 and falls off steadily every year, so that older inmates are the least likely to commit crimes. H.150, introduced by Mollie Burke (P/D, Brattleboro) would allow older prisoners who pose little or no risk to the public to apply for early parole. It would apply to prisoners 55-64 who had served ten years but not yet reached their minimum sentence and prisoners 65 and older who had served five years but not their minimum. VCJR initiated this bill in the last session (H.623), and it passed the House but not in time for Senate considertion. We hope for passage in 2017. Ask your legislator to support this today! (Find him/her here.)
The imposition of monetary bail to ensure appearance in court discriminates against people with little money. Those with resources manage to stay out of jail awaiting trial, while those lacking funds end up in jail, and as a result can lose their housing and their jobs. There is also significant evidence that those arriving in court from jail (looking like prisoners) experience worse outcomes than those arriving off the street (looking like regular citizens). Vt.’s new Attorney General, T.J. Donovan, a former prosecutor, considers bail reform a top priority, the House Judiciary Committee is working on a committee bill, and we support all such efforts.
Since its beginning, VCJR has pushed for ending the practice of keeping people in jail for lack of “approved” housing, On any given day, 140-150 people who are eligible for release languish behind bars for lack of housing. Occasionally someone has a bad history as a tenant and can’t find a place to rent, and sometimes he/she has a criminal charge (e.g. a sex offense) that limits housing options. But not infrequently, a probation officer or “Central Office” simply won’t approve the housing options that the inmate has identified, for any number of what appear to be arbitrary, even inexplicable, reasons. VCJR opposes the practice of requiring approval for housing.
When a person is released--by the court, Dept. of Corrections, or parole board--those entities typically set condtions upon that release. Such conditions may include both requirements (e.g. you must attend counseling, you must have housing) and restrictions (e.g. you must not have contact with X, you must be in by Y o’clock). In theory, conditions are supposed to relate to the underlying charge, but in practice this is not always the case. You can be prohibited alcohol when your charge had nothing to do with alcohol, for example. Violations of these conditions—which are not crimes, by definition—can result in your being returned to jail. VCJR’s position is: if someone doesn’t want attend the required counseling or to abide by state-imposed restrictions on his/her behavior, perhaps rather than punishing that unwillingness, a better, more effective approach, one that encourages accountability and responsibility, might be to ask, “What do you need? What would help you succeed?”
This is a three-year project aimed at increasing alternatives to incarceration for women, beginning with women charged with non-violent offenses who have minor children. This first year has involved interviewing currently and formerly incarcerated women, asking "What did you need when you first started getting in trouble? What would have helped? What do you need now?" The project is driven by advocates and formerly incarcerated women working together. Years two and three will involve laying the groundwork for the recommendations that emerge in year one, and beginning their implementation.
This campaign, begun in 2014, in conjunction with Grassroots Leadership in Texas, focuses on reducing Vermont's prison population in order to end the practice of shipping men out of state to a private prison company. This winter, the state learned that GEO Group, which owns the for-profit prison in Michigan that houses 240 Vermont men, will not renew its contract with Vermont in July. That means that the state has an extra incentive to implement some of the changes VCJR has been pushing for several years: by reducing the number of prisoners in-state by 250, Vermont could simply bring back home the men in Michigan. This requires the legislature and the Dept. of Corrections to take action (and the judiciary to follow through and participate)--but it can be done. This is a priority in the spring of 2017. Do you agree that Vt. should cut ties with private prison companies and keep people in state, close to their loved ones? Sign our petition that opposes the use of out of state private prisoners here!
- Stop creating new crimes.
- Change the public conversation about the value of punishment.
- End the “war on drugs.”
- Require all juveniles under 18 be addressed in Family Court (if cited at all).
- Ensure that people’s mental health and substance abuse issues are addressed in the community, not prison.
- End solitary confinement under any name. Allow single cells (i.e. rooms). A person with mental illness requiring "segregation" needs a treatment setting, not prison.
- Address overly harsh sentencing practices of the past by offering a "second look" and re-sentencing option.
- Require all facilities to offer job training and programming from the beginning of a sentence.
- Bring back “good time.”
- Reduce the collateral consequences of conviction.