MONTPELIER, Vt.—Governor Scott has signed the most ambitious criminal justice reform from this past legislative session into law. S.338, “an act relating to justice reinvestment,” is intended to “reform the State’s approach to criminal justice by reducing the population of incarcerated Vermonters and reinvesting the savings in strategies to improve public safety, reduce recidivism and revocations to prison, and support individual success on supervision.”
Among other provisions, S.338 includes due process protections for people challenging improper revocations, allows people to earn “good time” to reduce the length of their sentences, and establishes presumptive parole for people who reach their minimum sentence. This initiative reflects the legislature’s stated commitment to creating a “smarter criminal justice system” for Vermont.
ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Lyall: “This is a historic and critically important step towards reforming Vermont’s carceral system by investing in people not prisons. We thank the many legislators, stakeholders, and community members who advanced this legislation, as well as Governor Scott for signing S.338 into law. Now, we must ensure the promise and intent of this legislation is realized in its implementation.
The most significant provisions in S.338 revamp Vermont’s punitive system of community supervision—probation, parole, and furlough. These reforms are urgently needed. Up to this point, the Department of Corrections has been returning people to prison—often for ‘technical violations’ like curfew violations or substance use—at the highest rate in the country and without due process or meaningful oversight. This broken system was implicated in the still-unresolved scandal of corrections officers sexually abusing women in prison and in the community last year. With the passage of S.338, people in DOC custody have new due process rights and Vermont is on track to substantially reduce its costly and damaging reliance on incarceration.
Passage of this law comes at a time when Vermont’s prison population had decreased rapidly over the past several months—down more than 20% from one year ago, and 40% from its peak a decade ago. Much of that progress was made in response to COVID-19 by implementing the same ‘smart justice’ strategies we have championed for years, proving what the ACLU and our partners have said all along—Vermont can and must reduce its reliance on prisons by investing in our communities.
The fact that Vermont’s prison population is again increasing—now over 1,400 people incarcerated after hitting a twenty-year low of 1,360 in May—shows how fragile these reforms can be and how much work remains. Now is not the time to go backwards on our progress. We, our partners, and supporters remain committed to creating a justice system that is fair, equitable, and rooted in community-based solutions, and S.338 advances Vermont towards that goal.”