The Vermont legislative session has begun. There are quite a few bills that we are following, some we will be supporting and others that we’ll oppose. There are so many! Here are a few of them.

S.155 Second look This important bill has the support of the Sentencing Project, who is shepherding similar bills in other New England states. This bill allows a path for sentence reduction for incarcerated people who have what is considered extreme sentences. It will benefit both people who committed their offenses before the age of 25, when science tell us their brains are still developing, and also older incarcerated people. The sentence reduction is not automatic, the person will have to go before a judge to request sentencing relief. Only people deemed to be no threat to the public will be given a reduction in sentence. Guest blogger Dr. Brashani Reece explained this bill in an earlier post.

Please sign this Letter of Support for S.155.

H.326 would prohibit the state from sending incarcerated people to out of state facilities. Currently there are 126 men in a privately owned prison in Mississippi.These people are far from family and friends. Studies have shown that strong connections to family, with regular in-person visits, help reduce recidivism upon release. Also, those in out-of-state prisons have restricted access to legal counsel. Vermont does not have the same level of oversight that it has with our in-state faciliities.

H.170 Examine Restorative Justice. Vermont has community justice centers throughout the state who are doing excellent work in court diversion and prisoner reentry. But Vermont barely scratches the surface of what retorative justice has to offer us. Perhaps this proposed panel of stakeholders can extend that work.

H.408 Compassionate Release: this bill should extend the possibility of release for ill, disabled, and elder incarcerated people. It is a bill that has been put forth in several previous sessions, maybe this is the one that will pass.

H.88 Eliminate Cash Bail for Misdemeanors: The point of imposing bail is to ensure that a person will appear for their court date, in order to recoup the bail money. The problem is, it is unfair: some people can easily pay their bail, while some will struggle: others can not, and so are incarcerated while awaiting trial. Since the courts remain backed up, this could turn into months behind bars. And now we hear that Governor Scott wants to elmininate the cap of $200 bail for misdemeanors, which he signed into law in 2018. This bill requires the courts to impose other restrictions on the accused to “mitigate the risk of flight and to reasonably protect the public.”

S. 156: Moratorium on New Prisons  This bill’s statement of purpose speaks for itself: “to place a moratorium on the study, design, acquisition, or construction of a new correctional facility, and the expansion of an existing correctional facility, in the State until July 1, 2028. This bill also proposes to end the period of suspension of State aid for school construction projects.” In other words, let’s choose education over incarceration, Vermont!

Links to the bills:
S.155. Second Look
H.326 End Use of Out Of State Prisons
H.170 Examine Restorative Justice
H.408 Compassionate Release
H.88 Eliminate Cash Bail for Misdemeanors
S.156 Moratorium on New Prisons

Ready to email your legislators? (Or you could call them.) Remember that you don’t need any lengthy explanation: your message can just be: I am (name) from (town) and I would like you to support (bill).  Here’s how to find your legislator and their contact info.

— Meg McCarthy

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Vermont Just Justice is an all-volunteer organization. Help us continue to support Vermont’s incarcerated people and change our state’s criminal legal system.