On Friday, November 3, 2023, the Center for Justice Reform at the Vermont Law & Graduate School hosted a day-long conference to discuss a proposed bill in the legislature, S.155, also known as “Second Look” legislation.
Throughout the day, participants heard from various legal and criminal justice experts from around the country about the importance of Second Look.
So, what is Second Look?
Broadly speaking, the purpose of Second Look legislation is to grant an incarcerated person the opportunity to petition the court for a reduced sentence after having served a lengthy period of incarceration.
If the petition is accepted, the incarcerated person has a hearing with the original sentencing judge (or their successor) to ask for consideration to have their sentence reduced.
There are a number of factors that judges will consider in these cases including:
Is the person over the age of 55?
How old were they when they were incarcerated?
How many years has the person served?
Are there indicators that they have been rehabilitated?
Are they diagnosed with cancer or other terminal illnesses?
Would we view their crime differently today in light of changes in societal norms?
What Second Look Isn’t
Second Look is NOT a “get out of jail free card.”
In the event that a person’s sentence is reduced, they are not automatically released. And in the cases where parole is a requirement for release, that person will need to appear before the parole board to determine parole eligibility.
“But Vermont is a very progressive state with a relatively low prison population in comparison to other states. Why does Vermont need Second Look?”
Vermont sentences people to longer sentences than the national average.
According to a 2021 report issued by The Sentencing Project, No End in Sight: America’s Enduring Reliance on Life Imprisonment, 1 in 7 persons in prison are serving a life sentence.
In the state of Vermont, that number increases to 1 in 5 incarcerated people. In other words, 20% of the entire prison population is serving life.
Vermont disproportionately incarcerates Black people at a higher rate and for longer than white people.
Only 1% of the general population in Vermont is Black but they make up 10% of the prison population.
In terms of lengthy sentences, 7% of the Black prison population is serving life with the possibility of parole. And 14% of the prison population who are serving life without the possibility of parole are Black.
3. Vermont’s prison population serving life is more elderly than the national average.
Incarceration physically ages people faster. Therefore, any person in prison over the age of 50 is considered “elderly.”
Approximately ⅓ of the country’s prison population is elderly but according to the VT Department of Correction data, almost all of Vermont’s prison population who are serving a life sentence are over the age of 50.
Vermont’s prisons, like so many others, have now become nursing homes and hospitals. This is inhumane to the people inside and simply unsustainable fiscally. We urge you as a community member to support S.155, Second Look.
If you’re interested in getting involved further, please reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s support our Vermonter’s with a “Second Look!”
Dr. Brashani Reece
Executive Director, Drop LWOP New England