Candidate name: Christine Hallquist

Campaign mailing address, email, and phone:

PO Box 1328
Morrisville, VT 05661

(802) 851-8439

[email protected]


1. Over the last 40 years, Vermont’s population grew by 35% while its prison population grew by more than 300%, resulting in an annual cost to taxpayers of roughly $150 million in incarceration costs alone. If elected, will you commit to helping Vermont reduce its prison population by at least 50%?
 

Vermont’s bloated prison population is an injustice. As governor, I will stand for a significant reductions in our prison population and will certainly support the ACLU’s plan to reduce the prison population by 50% or more. We incarcerate a disproportionately high number of people of color, many of whom have been arrested for non-violent offenses. This system is inequitable and places an unnecessary burden on Vermont’s taxpayers. I am in favor of a criminal justice system that prioritizes rehabilitation over incarceration. I believe that Vermont should be a national leader in social justice, Yet over the last half-century, Vermont has failed to counter our country’s trend of over-incarceration. It is vital that we take this step towards justice.


2. Two thirds of Vermont voters want to reduce our prison population and increase alternatives to incarceration. What specific legislative reforms will you advocate in the next biennium to reduce Vermont’s reliance on incarceration, and for each of those reforms, if enacted, how many detainees and/or prisoners do you estimate could be re-sentenced, released, or diverted to alternatives?

I believe that ninety-five percent of people wake up in the morning and want to do the right thing. For that reason, I favor an approach to criminal justice that prioritizes rehabilitation and education. Many laws currently on the books, such as mandatory sentencing laws, treat people who have broken the law – even for non-violent offenses – as liabilities to our state. Instead, I will support rehabilitation and court diversion programs to prevent incarceration for these low level offenses. I also support the establishment of education programs in prisons to help return those who are incarcerated to their communities with the tools to succeed. Additionally, I would like to see Vermont’s public schools put additional resources toward counseling and student support services rather than punitive disciplinary measures. Vermont’s schools should not contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Finally, I will stand decisively against contracting out Vermont’s inmate populations to out-of-state for-profit prisons. It is also worth noting that many of my proposed policies will divert Vermonters from our state’s prison system. When Vermonters are earning a livable wage, going to quality public schools through college, and covered by universal health care, they are far less likely to break the law. As governor, I want to create a safe and just Vermont for all of us.


3. Vermont’s Department of Corrections (DOC) does not release aggregate data that would allow for analysis of Vermont’s inmate population by race, gender, age, disability, county, offense, or length of sentence. Will you advocate for DOC to start collecting, analyzing, and releasing aggregate data on Vermont’s inmate population to assist policymakers and the public in crafting smarter criminal justice policies?

It is vital that Vermont track the way its criminal justice system serves people of different backgrounds, ethnic groups, genders, etc. To do so, it is imperative that the Department of Corrections collect data on race, gender, age, disability, county, offense, and length of sentence and release the anonymized data publicly. Transparency is essential to a healthy democracy. Additionally, should a bill for the creation of a systemic racism officer (such as the bill that came out of the legislature in the 2018 session) land on my desk as governor, I would sign it enthusiastically. In conjunction with data from the DOC, creating a systemic racism officer will represent a robust steps toward equity in Vermont’s criminal justice system.


4. Police records show that people of color are disproportionately stopped and searched by Vermont law enforcement, and racial disparities in Vermont’s prison system are among the worst in the nation. What new policies will you advance to better address systemic racism in Vermont’s criminal justice system specifically, and in Vermont as a whole?

Across America, communities of color experience heightened levels of policing, resulting in  disproportionate levels of incarceration. This is a trend from which Vermont is not immune. African Americans, for example, are incarcerated at over five times the rate of whites, according to the NAACP’s database. While this fact alone is startling, one out of every 14 black men in Vermont is incarcerated today – the highest rate in the country. We must achieve equity and justice in our criminal justice system to rectify this injustice. To do so, I will support community policing efforts that build relationships between local law enforcement officials and the community as well as expanded resources to address mental health crises. It’s also important that we change the way many ordinances are enforced to ensure that we are not criminalizing poverty. I also support citizen oversight boards and greater emphasis on fair and impartial policing. Additionally, I strongly support an ethnic studies unit in public school and greater education on diversity.


5. There is growing consensus about the need for public health-centered approaches to substance use and addiction that emphasize decriminalization and harm reduction, increase access to treatment, and do not involve prosecution for drug possession. What new policies will you advance to increase access to treatment and reduce incarceration for drug crimes in Vermont?

First and foremost, let me say that substance use must be considered a public health issue. This means a focus on treatment, harm-reduction, and rehabilitation rather than incarceration. The evidence is clear that harm reduction works to reduce overall impact of drug use on the community as a whole. Vermont can follow a similar path to address our opiate crisis by expanding treatment and harm reduction, including access to sterile syringes, low-threshold methadone maintenance therapy, and other medication-assisted treatments. It is also worth noting that implementing a taxation and regulation system for cannabis will reduce negative drug-related health outcomes. Under the current system, Vermonters may legally consume cannabis, but there is minimal regulation. This means Vermonters do not know what pesticides and herbicides were used in the product they are consuming. A tax and regulate system is essential for the safe use of cannabis in Vermont and for positive health outcomes for Vermonters. It’s also vital that cannabis charges be expunged from criminal records in Vermont.
 


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