Commentary

The “tough on crime” approach won’t solve our problems

Criminologists talk a lot about the pendulum swing between “tough on crime” strategies and those that rely more on human services than punishment. These swings are evident in legislation, and other policy measures. We are seeing it now at the Vermont Statehouse: a swing back to the “tough on crime” approach. Being tough on crime means a few different things. On the surface, it seems like a reasonable response; of course we don’t want to be “tolerant” of crime. But what it means in practice is costly laws passed in response to (understandably) fed-up and worried constituents, without sufficient thought to the long-term consequences, and more importantly, what the existing evidence-base shows to be effective.

I appreciate the constituents’ worries and the legislators’ desire to be responsive. But there is clear evidence that as states increase investments in criminal legal apparatuses, they reduce investment in human services/welfare. And naturally, as we divest from human services, and funding that would raise those most in need, we see more social problems in the form of houselessness, untreated mental illness and substance use disorder. (more…)

By |2024-01-28T13:42:11+00:00January 28, 2024|Commentary, Legislative|0 Comments

Keep Children out of Adult Courts

Below is a letter written to Addison County State’s Attorney Eva Vekos concerning the decision to charge a 14-year-old as an adult. You can also write or call Ms Vekos at eva.vekos@vermont.gov or 802-388-7931. Also, contact your state representatives and tell them that we should never charge a minor as an adult. (more…)

By |2023-11-13T14:11:32+00:00November 13, 2023|Commentary, Legislative|1 Comment

Illness is not a Crime

It is time for our legislative body to make a full commitment to truly funding meaningful treatment to Vermont’s epidemic of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in the creation of appropriate treatment facilities. Where is our opioid settlement money? I concur our state is trying, but the idea of helping a “drug addict” still sticks in some legislators‘ craw. (more…)

By |2023-11-06T17:24:01+00:00November 6, 2023|Commentary, Legislative|1 Comment

Dear Legislators

Vermont Just Justice Recommendations for Prison Health Care

Vermont Just Justice has been following the discussion of prison healthcare in Vermont, and the reliance of hedge fund-owned Wellpath LLC to provide that care. Contrary to what we hear from DOC and the provider, our connections to those inside tell a different story. The following are our recommendations to the Vermont Legislator. Please share this post, and particularly share it with legislators in your county. (more…)

By |2023-10-18T15:18:26+00:00October 18, 2023|Commentary|1 Comment

Vermont Prisons’ For Profit Healthcare

On May 4, 2023, members of the Vermont Just Justice organization held a rally at the statehouse to bring awareness to the accepted practice of denying healthcare to incarcerated individuals. Vermont law 28 VSA 801 (a) clearly states the following: The department shall provide healthcare for inmates in accordance with prevailing medical standards. A quick look up for the VitalCore Kansas-based provider states the following under cost containment: VitalCore controls costs by ensuring that the patient receives the right amount of care the first time. And there is an emphasis on their staff being trained to make medical judgement calls and only sending patients offsite when needed. (more…)

By |2023-05-17T14:35:16+00:00May 17, 2023|Commentary|0 Comments

What’s Up in Newport?

On the radio and online, I’ve heard of the troubles at Northern State Correctional Facility (NSCF) in Newport. In an unusual move, the staff at the prison sent a letter of a “vote of no confidence” in Interim Superintendent Lori Madden. According to VtDigger, “The letter alleged that Madden has failed to staff key positions, permitted untrained staff to work in security positions, and confined incarcerated individuals to their living unit without recreation opportunities due to understaffing.” (more…)

By |2023-02-21T17:46:19+00:00February 21, 2023|Commentary|1 Comment

Why Criminal Justice Reform?

Some people have asked me why I am so passionate about criminal justice reform. Here is why.

First of all, we have a system that is very expensive (in VT for example, it costs $60k per year to incarcerate one individual, and that is not including the police and court costs, etc.) but we have poor outcomes for our investment. By that I mean, what we do does not work—it does not lead to greater public safety or less crime. It does not rehabilitate folks. Research shows that, all things being equal, a prison sentence actually makes people more likely to re-offend. So does that mean I am saying let’s just close the prisons and let everyone free? No. But what I am saying is this: we need to think much harder about who we incarcerate, why, and for how long. A majority of those in prison can be supervised in the community more effectively, less expensively, and with better results for families and communities. In Europe for example, they don’t really have “life sentences.” The most someone might get would be 10-14 years for the most serious crimes. What is their re-offense rate like compared to ours? I think you can guess. So what amazes me is how happy we are to just keep punishing people to satisfy our anger, and to spend a lot of tax dollars to do so–tax dollars that could go to mental health services, housing, parenting programs or any number of initiatives that might help prevent criminal behavior in the first place. We do not insist on good outcomes from our justice system. Most of us don’t even know much about the system. It does not serve the greater good–or even the goal of public safety–to happily pouring money into a system just to get our pound of flesh. In many cases, we contribute to our own future victimization and/or tax burden.
 (more…)

By |2022-11-01T13:01:10+00:00November 1, 2022|Commentary|3 Comments

Employment in Prison, Part 2

The opportunity for employment is only available to sentenced incarcerated persons. The job selections range from custodial type jobs, to painting, and kitchen work. In each housing unit, there are two laundry worker positions and a unit cleaner position. Generally, there is also a living unit cleaner who handles the exterior hallways between units. Maintainence positions cover mowing the grass, sweeping and/or shoveling walkways and maintainence and repair of the appliances in each unit – microwaves, washers/dryers. They also handle the loading dock responsibilities. Due to security issues, all of these positions are so heavily supervised, everything takes twice as long… and due to the lack of proper wages and unskilled laborers, everything is done less than half as well. Officers are overworked and taxed with with not only being a correctional officer, but also a personnel manager and supervisor. (more…)

By |2022-10-25T12:16:43+00:00October 23, 2022|Commentary|0 Comments

The Reality of Prisoner Employment

During the recent discussion about Proposal 2, which, if passed, would prohibit slavery and indentured servitude in the state constitution, its effect on incarcerated people working inside our state prisons came up. Are these people working as slaves of the state?

In a September 20,2022 article in VtDigger, we read:

“Rachel Feldman, a spokesperson for the state Department of Corrections, told VTDigger that the department does “not see any issue with Proposal 2 and our current policies and practices” around employing incarcerated Vermonters. Those workers do earn less per hour than minimum wage, Feldman said, but they are not forced to perform labor, and they apply for their positions at correctional facilities.”

This is true, but the facts as stated here don’t describe the situation in the facilities. To say that the workers earn less than minimum wage is an understatement. the great majority of them make $1.25 a day (yes, per day), or less. A handful of jobs requiring more skill can pay as much as $7 a day. Still, there are not enough jobs to go around, and people are grateful for the small amount that they can earn. (more…)

By |2022-10-19T12:41:24+00:00October 17, 2022|Commentary|2 Comments

A Police Shooting in Ludlow

I live in Chester and have wondered when an officer-involved shooting with resultant death was going to occur in our “neck of the woods.” I consider Ludlow our “neck of the woods,” a town where my husband has worked for 37 years.

On Aug. 15 of this year, a local man was experiencing a crisis. According to all reports he had called 911 more than two dozen times that afternoon. Not sure what else a person in distress is able to do to notify his very community that he was in need of help. Not sure what the 911 protocol is when they receive multiple calls from an individual in crisis. Shouldn’t there be a non-police crisis intervention team sent to respond in some way? Work the phones, call the family, call the neighbors, something other than what happened here on this very sad day? (more…)

By |2022-10-08T19:07:44+00:00September 27, 2022|Commentary|0 Comments
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