Last fall, a subgroup of the Vermont Justice Coalition, which is convened by VCJR (Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform) developed several bills for introduction to the VT Legislature this past January.These are savvy people, directors of the ACLU-Vt., Human Rights Commission, Prisoners’ Rights, Commission on Women, So. Royalton (VT Law School) Legal Clinic and more, and these are excellent bills. Thoughtful, carefully constructed, moderate. But will they pass?

One of them, H.743, includes as a sponsor the chair of House Judiciary, the committee that will take it up, and so has a good chance at least in the House. It mandates training in “fair and impartial” policing and reporting of traffic stop data. Two others, S.206/H.617 and S.207/H.623, would have to be taken up by the House and Senate corrections committees. House Corrections has shown noticeably little interest in criminal justice reform over the past few sessions, but Senate Corrections has at least taken testimony on S.206 and 207. But according to the chair, the bills may not be “ready for prime time” in spite of the best efforts of the lead sponsor, Brattleboro Sen. Becca Balint.
Neither is particularly radical. S.206 would prohibit re-incarceration for a technical (non-criminal) violation of conditions of release, i.e. for having a beer or missing an appointment. (Yes, this happens frequently, depending on the probation/parole officer). It does allow exceptions to protect victims’ safety. S.207 institutes compassionate release for people who are seriously ill or dying, based directly on the federal model, and also allows older inmates who haven’t reached their minimum sentence to petition for early release. (“If the risk is low, let them go.”) Less incarceration leads to less crime, not the other way around. These bills would reduce incarceration and crime. Only when we want to prevent crime more than we want to punish it will we see real change. For updates and action alerts please join VCJR’s mailing list.
By Suzi Wizowaty