The number of people in American jails is staggering -- 2.2 million, or one in every 100 American adults. Vermont has done better than many other states in bucking the trend. Nonetheless, despite low crime rates, we've been putting more people behind bars, leading to full prisons and the transfer of inmates to private out-of-state jails. The ACLU-VT is part of a coalition, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, that's working with the national group "Grassroots Leadership" to cut Vermont's ties with private, for-profit prisons and bring Vermont inmates home. You can help -- sign the "Locked Up and Shipped Away" petition to bring Vermont inmates home.
An inmate’s success in staying out of prison is often the strength of ties he or she has to family, friends, and community. Those ties are undermined when an inmate is shipped far from home. For Vermont inmates, that means jails run by Corrections Corporation of America in Kentucky (about 1,000 miles away) or Arizona (more than 2,000 miles away). The distances are vast when family is trying to support an inmate hoping to turn his or her life around.
Read the Locked Up and Shipped Away campaign report, Paying the Price for Vermont’s Response to Prison Overcrowding. Hear testimonies from family and loved ones dealing with the consequences of Vermont’s locked up and shipped away policy.
Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform is working to lower the number of people sent to jail. We believe:
- People should only be put in jail for public safety reasons.
- Drug addiction is a health, not a criminal justice, problem.
- Restorative justice principles should be part of all aspects of the state’s criminal justice system.
Nationally, the ACLU has worked for many years to end America’s “addiction” to incarceration. Driven by the “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” policies” of the 1980s and 1990s, America’s prisons are bursting at the seams with nonviolent offenders, the mentally ill, the elderly, children charged as adults, and those with drug addiction in need of treatment.
Because of discriminatory laws and biased enforcement, people of color are vastly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. As a result, more African-Americans are now under corrections systems control than were enslaved in 1850. This injustice has severe economic, social, and political impacts.
While Vermont’s overall incarceration rate is lower than the national average, the racial make-up of Vermont’s inmates is skewed disproportionately. Nationally, a black person is 5.6 times more likely than a white person to end up in jail; in Vermont, that figure is 12.5 times.
The reasons for the large disparity are unclear. But they fit a disturbing pattern.
Black Vermonters are 4.4 times more likely than white Vermonters to be arrested for marijuana possession. Review of traffic stop data suggests significant profiling by race in the state. And following the turbulent events of this summer, it was found that 1,600 U.S. cities have a higher black arrest rate than Ferguson, MO. Burlington, VT, is one of them.
In November the Open Society Foundations awarded a grant of $50 million to the national ACLU to help end mass incarceration. The goal is to halve the current prison population of 2.2 million by 2020. It’s the most ambitious effort to end mass incarceration in American history. Join the effort; sign our pledge to cut the prison population in half by 2020!