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Frequently Asked Questions

How many people are incarcerated in Vermont?

In 2016, there were approximately 1,750 men and women incarcerated in the state system, in seven “facilities” in state and one out-of-state prison.  About 150 of those are women.

That sounds like a small number. Are there more on probation or parole?

Yes.  About 8,000 more Vermonters were “under supervision” in 2015.  Also, more people cycle through the facilities than are locked up on any given day. For example, there are usually about 150 people at the women's prison but about 1,400 women cycle through the facility in a year.

Why are they called facilities? Sounds like a euphemism.

Vermont has what’s called a unified system, where people in jail (detained but not sentenced, or sentenced to less than a year) and people in prison (sentenced to more than a year) live together in the same place.

Where are the facilities?

Newport, St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, Rutland, Springfield, South Burlington (women's correctional facility).

What about youth in the system? Are they held with adults?

Juveniles are held in Colchester at Woodside, which is a “secure” (i.e. locked) facility, but which aspires to offer a more treatment-based setting than a traditional jail or prison. Unfortunately, Woodside lost its Medicaid funding as a treatment facility in January, 2017.

How many Vermonters are incarcerated out of state?

There are currently about 262 Vermonters in the state prison SCI-Camp Hill in Pennsylvania. In the summer of 2017, Vt. signed a contract with Pa. corrections, which committed Vt. to pay for 250 - 400 beds for three years ($6.5-$10.5M annually). The contract is what's called an interstate compact agreement, which  signs over custody and control of Vermont prisoners. This means that those sent from Vermont are considered prisoners of the Pa. corrections system and their grievances are filed through the Pa. system.

Prior to the 2017 move to Camp Hill, Vermont's out-of-state prisoners were sent to North Lake Correctionanal Facility in Baldwin, MI, owned and operated by GEO Group, a private, for-profit prison corporation, formerly known as Wackenhut.  Before July, 2015, men were held in Kentucky for about ten years.  

What’s the racial disparity in Vermont’s prison system?

On, average black and brown people are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites. In 5 states, including Vermont, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey and Wisconsin the disparity is more than 10 to 1. Vermont has a higher rate of incarceration of black and brown men than any other state. 1 in 14 black and brown men in the state of Vermont are incarcerated.

What about old people in prison?

Vermont has the second oldest prison population in the U.S.—and not coincidentally the second highest health care cost per prisoner.

What are the reasons most people are in jail/prison?

Typically, about 25-30% of people who are incarcerated are detainees (i.e. awaiting trial, and often detained solely because they can’t afford bail) and about a third are there for a “technical violation” of conditions.  Another 30-35% of the men and 50-70% of the women are serving time for non-violent crimes like possession or sale of drugs, or felony theft. (A felony involves over $900.) And about 8%  of prisoners (140 people) are eligible for release but held for lack of “approved” housing. 

But what are the root causes of people’s involvement with the criminal justice system?

Great question. Most people in the system are poor, and many have untreated addiction or mental health issues.  (Being able to address health issues requires access to resources.) To be specific, the root causes are: 1) Poverty—only 3-5% of people charged with a crime use a private attorney; the rest use a public defender (85-87%) or represent themselves (10%). 2) Untreated addiction issues—an estimated 50-75%. (However, some women inside set that estimate at 95%.) 3) Mental health issues—about 70% of women and 45% of men receive mental health services. 4) Institutionalized racism-- On, average black and brown people are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites. In 5 states, including Vermont (and Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey and Wisconsin) the disparity is more than 10 to 1. Vermont has a higher rate of incarceration of black and brown men than any other state. 1 in 14 black and brown men in the state of Vermont are incarcerated.

What’s a “technical violation”?

When the court (i.e. judge) releases someone on probation, or the Dept. of Corrections releases someone on furlough, or the parole board grants parole, each can set conditions upon the person’s behavior—either restrictions (e.g. no drinking) or requirements (e.g. to attend counseling).  Violating a condition can mean being returned to prison.  Because such behavior is non-criminal—i.e. a “technical violation”—it arguably should not incur a loss of liberty. 

Does Vermont have issues with solitary confinement?

“Disciplinary segregation” (also known as “the hole,” or “SHU”--segregated housing unit) is limited to 30 days after which a review is required.  However, “administrative segregation” is unregulated.  The reality is people can spend a year or more in solitary confinement. 

Does Vermont have the death penalty?

No.  However, someone convicted in Vermont within the federal system could receive the death penalty.

Does Vermont allow people in jail or with felony convictions to vote?

Yes. Vermont is one of two states that never disenfranchised people with a felony conviction. Every citizen can vote here, regardless of incarcerative status or criminal conviction. 

Are Vermont prisoners allowed to have physical contact with family members?

Parents only are allowed physical contact with children under 12.  Vermont is the only New England state that limits contact visits in this way.  (Note: In 2014, about 6,500 Vermont children had a parent in jail or prison.)

Does Vermont have 3-strikes-you’re-out laws or mandatory minimums?

Vermont’s version of “three strikes” is the “habitual offender” statute which increases penalties.  Mandatory minimums exist for DUI (driving under the influence) and some sex crimes.

What about restorative justice in Vermont and alternatives to incarceration?

This is the good news: Vermont is the only state with community justice centers (CJCs) in every county (21 in total) in addition to a strong court diversion program. Most CJCs have some form of reparative panels.  Many have CoSAs (circles of support and accountability) which offer support to people coming out of prison. Some state’s attorneys have created programs that divert people to programs or treatment, and never file charges if the person succeeds in the program. Former State’s Attorney TJ Donovan’s Rapid Intervention Community Court in Chittenden County, for example, received national recognition. Though slow to take off, a legislatively mandated attempt to develop such programs statewide is expected to show positive results as well. Drug courts, mental health courts and other specialty courts also offer alternatives to incarceration.

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

Contact us:
tom@vcjr.org

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

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