Your spouse, or loved one, or sibling, or child, has an encounter with the law. It can happen, doesn’t matter why. What then begins is a journey through our criminal justice system. The experience for the folks on the outside can be frightening, and is always hard, and frustrating, constantly disappointing, and is heartbreakingly real. The reality so stunning in the not-what-you-expected, or thought-you-knew or understood about the system — only to be horrified by the actual facts. From the moment of arraignment to the first days of incarceration to trying to navigate their draconian rules just to be a parent or loved one and to attempt to protect your loved one from the pitfalls of the system — and to try to work with the system — only to be slapped in the face with the reality that the system is broken. And they want it that way.
That way it works for them, and NOT for you. Not for your loved one. It is baffling, and daunting. Yet you see a challenge, and have the determination to challenge them back, to seek a way to FIX IT. Your instincts compel you to discover and implement a solution — to make it happen — for your loved one, but also for the good of all.
The system doesn’t work for our communities, either. The way it is now, it is an insurance policy — a guarantee — that the greater percentage of incarcerated persons will most likely incur infractions while incarcerated, possibly delaying their release. And, as the system is rigged to ensure violations while reintegrating back into the community, the probability that the greater percentage of these persons will be reincarcerated, either for nonobservance of policies, directives or conditions of release or, for new transgressions or noncompliance is also very real. How exactly does the community benefit from this broken system, with its built-in recidivism policy? It doesn’t. The Department of Corrections (DOC), and their underlings in Probation and Parole (P&P), are tasked with fostering the “correction” of these persons — to assist with reintegration from the outset of the person’s sentence [Title 28, V.S.A. § 1 ]. Start as soon as you get them in custody. Develop and grow this underdeveloped and malformed individual into the best version of themselves, to the benefit of the community. That’s the ONLY way the community can be better served – strengthening our communities, rather than re-introducing a ticking time bomb with no skill, no hope, no plan — and ultimately no chance at success.
What a missed opportunity on the part of the state.
Nurture them, guide them, help them up out of the pits. Educate them, provide medical care, mental health care, dental care that isn’t torture, vocational guidance and training — opportunity and possibility instead of indemnifying their return to custody. That’s how the community can see gains. No wonder nobody wants a prison in their backyard; it’s criminal school, where you can learn how to be a better criminal.
Funding. It’s like a dirty word, since the current system just throws good money after bad. Every prison in this state has the ability to provide for itself — most of them have the space for agriculture and livestock and could not only self-sustain, but most likely give back to the community, like food shelves. The capacity to operate *gasp* profitable businesses exists. It was proved by Vermont Correctional Industries (VCI) in Newport. Naturally, they’re shuttering the wood/furniture shop after decades of success.
I bet there isn’t a single incarcerated person who wouldn’t prefer fresh eggs over half real–half “egg mix”. Incarcerated persons could learn, and most importantly, develop the habit of hard work, and reap the benefits, not to mention the crucial pride and sense of accomplishment. These are important achievements which need to be attained while still incarcerated, so upon return to the community this person has streamlined their opportunity for success. Caseworkers in prison should be assisting reintegrating persons to acquire jobs before they ever get out, so they can hit the ground running, and support their families maybe for the first time in their lives. There are people within the community who work very hard in organizations whose sole purpose is to help those transitioning… But DOC and P&P will never tell you who they are.
Most of us know the way things are doesn’t work for our communities. We know change is imperative. It is well past time to stop imagining how we can restructure this system so it does work – we need boots on the ground. We need the letter-writing campaigns, we need community members establishing a dialogue with those charged with representing us in Montpelier. How do they suddenly become so disconnected – so unaware of what is really happening when they arrive at the Capitol?
What would you really like to see when these persons are returned to the community? Aren’t they more useful contributing, rather than taking?
I know we can do better.