Candidate name: Janssen Willhoit

Campaign mailing address, email, and phone:

PO Box 101
St Johnsbury, VT 05819

(802) 431-5118

w[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%?

Yes, if elected, I will commit to helping reduce Vermont's prison population by at least 50%, continuing on my efforts in the legislature to reduce and eliminate bail for non-violent offenses, and to revise our penal code.

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?

Legislative reforms that I have already introduced and will continue to advocate for to reduce our prison population include:

-no bail imposed on non-violent offenders

-reform our penal code as it relates to drug possession so that those charged with only possessing the drug to feed their addiction do not face felony charges (thereby, not held pre-conviction, and are far less likely to be convicted with a jail sentence)

-continue to build on our home-detention program so that individuals deemed by the court as appropriate for home detention are not detained in jail

-permit the courts to divert cases that are eligible for diversion when the prosecutor refuses to offer this alternative

These policies, working together, would reduce our daily prison population by  up to 50%.

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?

Yes, the data is essential to better understand who Vermont is incarcerating and what inadequacies exist in our current 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?

Education for all levels and sectors of our justice system are essential, including law enforcement, our courts (staff and judges alike), prosecutors, and defense attorneys.  Bias, both implicit and explicit, exists, and too often, we, as Vermonters, think this cannot be us.  The reality is, however, is that it exists, and every time I represent a person of color, I have to educate my juries and courts alike about these biases.  Until we all realize they exist and do something about it, the problems will remain.

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?

As previously mentioned, revising our drug possession statutes that are an artifact from the 80s war on drugs, is essential. Persons in the depths of addiction should not be charged with felonies and thrown in prison.  This is a health crisis that necessitates treatment and support.  Further, greater access to and support of alternatives to the criminal justice system, including community restorative justice and diversion programs are a more therapeutic, positive means to address addiction.

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