Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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, about 1,400 women cycle through the women’s facility in a year.
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.
Newport, St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, Rutland, Springfield, South Burlington (women-only), Windsor.
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.
There are currently about 250 men in a prison in Baldwin, Mich., 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. (Note that we’re just talking about prisoners in the state system. Federal prisoners—outside state jurisdiction—may be held any number of places.)
Only four, in 2017. Some other states have private prisons within their borders, however.
Vermont has one of the worst over-incarceration rates of African American men in the country. One out of 14 black men in Vermont is in jail or prison.
Vermont has the second oldest prison population in the U.S.—and not coincidentally the second highest health care cost per prisoner. (Note: A “compassionate release” bill in 2017 would allow for more older, low-risk adults to live out their days at home.)
Typically, about 25-30% of both men and women 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. (Note: a 2017 House Judiciary committee bill--i.e. lacks a number--would eliminate money bail; we anticipate another bill to prohibit holding people for lack of housing or "technical violations.")
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) Institutional racism--African Americans make up about 1 in 10 prisoners, but only 1-3 out of 100 residents of the state.
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. (Note: another 2017 bill would prohibit re-incarceration for technical violations.)
“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. (Note: A 2017 bill would limit solitary confinement by any name to 15 days.)
No. However, someone convicted in Vermont within the federal system could receive the death penalty.
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.
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.)
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.
This is the good news: Vermont is the only state with community justice centers (CJCs) in every county 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.