Smart Justice Campaign
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis: an absence of meaningful police oversight and accountability; glaring racial disparities—in police encounters and incarceration rates—compounded by the failed war on drugs; the growing criminalization of poverty through excessive bail, fines, and fees; and, an epidemic of mass incarceration. The U.S. represents just 4 percent of the world’s population, yet we lock up 2.3 million people, nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners.
Americans across the political spectrum have seen enough and are speaking up to demand sweeping reforms, and the ACLU is well-positioned to have an enormous impact. Through strategic litigation, targeted advocacy, public education, and in coalition with impacted communities nationwide, we will reform our racist criminal justice system and end our national addiction to mass incarceration.
Vermont is not immune to any of these problems—to the contrary, Vermont’s criminal justice system features huge racial disparities and a lack of police accountability. People of color are stopped, cited, and searched by police at a much higher rate than white drivers, and the data shows those disparities are actually increasing over time. An ACLU report showed that Vermont is the most unequal of New England states when it comes to marijuana arrests, with African-Americans in Vermont’s Rutland County 16.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.
The same disparities persist in Vermont’s prisons, where African Americans are incarcerated at more than 10 times the rate of white people. Vermont’s bloated prison system houses elderly inmates, inmates with disabilities, and hundreds of people awaiting trial on nonviolent offenses. Hundreds are sent to out-of-state prisons run by for-profit corporations.
Through integrated advocacy strategies, including multiple racial profiling lawsuits and broad engagement on legislative initiatives—including enhanced police stop data collection, expanded grounds for police decertification, and a model, statewide police use-of-force policy—the ACLU of Vermont is working to hold police accountable and reform a criminal justice system that has failed our state for too long.
Learn more about the ACLU’s national Campaign for Smart Justice here.
Empowering Vulnerable Populations
The ACLU of Vermont has long championed the rights of the most vulnerable among us—children, low-income families, homeless individuals, people with disabilities, prisoners, and the undocumented, among others—people for whom the promise of the Bill of Rights is too often denied. That fight continues in our opposition to laws and policies that criminalize poverty—including excessive fines and court fees, local anti-panhandling ordinances, and unfair evictions. It is what drives our efforts to ensure Vermont schoolchildren are afforded equal opportunity, regardless of income, background, or disability. And it animates our defense of the rights of undocumented immigrants, prisoners, and others whose voices need and deserve to be heard.
Through these and other initiatives, ACLU of Vermont will continue to find ways to ensure that the legal protections we have won in the courts and the legislature translate into the lives of all Vermonters.
The ACLU has long fought to protect Americans’ basic right to privacy—the right to be left alone in our homes and our private lives, without fear of government intrusion. Today, new and emerging technologies are outpacing the privacy protections on which we have long relied. We have seen the explosion of government surveillance programs and technologies capable of sweeping up ever more data about the most intimate aspects of our lives— our whereabouts and our communications, the websites we visit and what we buy, information about our health, our bodies, and more.
When the government and private corporations access this information, our most cherished and essential freedoms are at risk. As technology’s role in our lives grows, the ACLU of Vermont is educating the next generation of civil libertarians and stepping up its defense of Americans’ right to privacy.
Vermonters are rightly proud of their state’s tradition of local, direct democracy and respect for constitutional principles. But when it comes to government accountability, Vermont still has a long, long way to go on a number of key indicators: improved open meetings laws, expanded access to public records, meaningful conflict of interest rules, candidate financial disclosures, and a state ethics commission, among others.
Because the ACLU of Vermont recognizes that a truly participatory democracy requires real transparency, we are fighting to ensure that state and local officials who represent the people of Vermont are held to the highest standards.