MONTPELIER – As the number of incarcerated Vermonters continues to decline on a yearly basis, some lawmakers and organizations are determined to continue reforming Vermont’s criminal justice and prison systems.
A panel featuring representatives from the ACLU of Vermont, the Community Information Legal Center and the Legislature delved into a topic they view as a high priority in the discussion – women’s incarceration.
“Women who are incarcerated are usually the primary caregiver to minor children,” said Ashley Messier of the ACLU of Vermont. “There are 6,000 children that deal with parental incarceration every year in Vermont.”
Messier also said incarcerated women have a higher probability of being victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking and experiencing childhood trauma.
Speakers at the forum said providing easier access to services that would help address those issues while inmates are in prison or recently released would give them a better opportunity to transition back into society.
Rep. Marybeth Redmond (D-Essex) said incarcerated women in Vermont had more opportunities to get job skill training before they were all transferred to the Chittenden County Regional Correctional Facility.
“They were learning how to be electricians and plumbers and all of that went away,” Redmond said. “The vision was that they would move outside the facility during the day to get training and education, then come back at night. It became obvious to many of us that was never going to happen.”
On Tuesday, the ACLU of Vermont released a “Blueprint for Smart Justice” it hopes will aid Vermont legislators like Redmond looking at ways to reform the prison system. It recommends investing in treatment for mental health and substance abuse conditions as well as reforms in Vermont’s bail, sentencing and parole systems.
“Most other states, you’re on parole from a facility and here, they’re on community supervision,” Messier said. “This is one of the largest drivers of reincarceration, it’s not a new crime, people are returned to a facility for technical violations.”