Older and Sicker

When asked why the death rate in Vermont prisons has gone up so drastically, Corrections Commissioner Nick Deml replied that the prison population is getting older and sicker. It might have come as a surprise to some that we have so many old and / or sick people in our prisons. Some people might think that the people that we lock away are there because they’re scarey and dangerous. That they are there for our protection. In fact, they are there because we as a society insist upon punishment. They remain behind bars until they are old and frail because we feel they haven’t been punished enough. And so we have a geriatric, or long term care unit, where people are in wheelchairs and with walkers, some in various stages of dementia, are waiting to die. And we have people who die in prison. (more…)

By |2023-05-30T21:19:14+00:00May 30, 2023|Uncategorized|2 Comments

What’s Wrong with Vermont Prison Healthcare?

In December 2019, a man named Kenneth Johnson in the infirmary at the Northern State Correctional Facility was gasping for breath and begging staff to bring him to a hospital. Another man in the infirmary with him reported that he banged on the window for help, but was told by a corrections officer to knock it off or he’d take him to the hole — solitary confinement. Mr Johnson died before the sun rose the next morning. (more…)

By |2023-05-23T14:44:58+00:00May 23, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Change is Overdue at DOC

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. (more…)

By |2023-05-09T17:06:48+00:00May 9, 2023|Uncategorized|2 Comments

The State of Vermont is Killing People

Last Monday morning, David Mitchell, a 46-year-old man from Rutland, complained to prison guards that he couldn’t breathe and needed urgent medical treatment. According to multiple accounts from other people incarcerated in the same block, the guard told Mitchell to stop complaining and go back to his cell. When Mitchell kept begging to be taken to the hospital, he was threatened with being sent “to the hole” – solitary confinement – if he didn’t stop. Within an hour, he died in his cell. (more…)

By |2023-04-24T12:39:43+00:00April 23, 2023|Uncategorized|3 Comments

In support of a public health response to drug use

A Vermont Just Justice member wrote this letter to the Vermont Senate Judiciary committee in support of S.119,

An act relating to a public health response to drug use

Dear Senators,

Our organization, Vermont Just Justice, is writing to you in regard to the recent bill sent to your committee. This bill is intended to decriminalize the personal use of drugs that are currently classified as a criminal offense. The legislative wording states a clear understanding of:
• drug misuse as a public health crisis with fatal overdoses significantly rising
• criminal justice response ineffective and expensive
• criminal legal response detrimental to individuals, families, people of color, or those living in poverty
• criminal legal ramifications continue to keep people with addictions in poverty, and adversely affects their children, and families by inhibiting housing, education, benefits and income
• increases needless incarceration
• addiction is a disease classified in medicine as a chronic brain disorder that responds to treatment versus punishment (more…)

By |2023-04-18T14:16:37+00:00April 18, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Gotcha Day

Today will forever be known to me as your “gotcha day.” It’s the day the system got you and changed the course of our family forever. No more family trips or late night runs to McDonald’s. Instead, as your mom, I learned fast how to negotiate the systems that would allow me to talk with you, write to you, see you, speak to you, send you money and negotiate for your future. (more…)

By |2023-03-21T13:01:08+00:00March 21, 2023|Personal Narrative, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Legislation at midpoint

The Vermont legislature is now in session. The session runs from the beginning of January through April, and works on a biennium system. That means that bills that are introduced have two sessions, or two years, to pass — or not pass. Sometimes bills are resubmitted in the next biennium.

We are approaching “crossover,” meaning that bills that have passed one chamber now head to the other chamber to be considered. This happens each year after town meeting day. As we approach this important time in our legislative cycle, we’ll share with you some of the bills we’re concerned about. (more…)

By |2023-02-28T18:46:18+00:00February 28, 2023|Uncategorized|1 Comment
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