Over the past five decades, the United States has dramatically increased its reliance on the criminal justice system as a way to respond to substance use disorders, mental illness, poverty, and underfunded schools. As a result, the United States today incarcerates more people, both in absolute numbers and per capita, than any other nation in the world. Millions of lives have been upended and families torn apart. Mass incarceration has transformed American society, damaged families and communities, and wasted trillions of taxpayer dollars.
In January of 2018 the ACLU of Vermont launched Smart Justice Vermont, a campaign committed to transforming our nation’s criminal justice system and building a new vision of community well-being, public safety, and justice. Smart Justice Vermont is dedicated to cutting the incarcerated population in half and challenging systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
We all want to live in safe and healthy communities, and our criminal justice policies should be focused on the most effective approaches to achieving that goal. But the current system has failed us. It’s time for Vermont and the rest of the country to dramatically reduce its reliance on incarceration and invest instead in alternatives to prison, including approaches better designed to break the cycle of crime and recidivism by helping people rebuild their lives.