MONTPELIER—Absent from Governor Scott’s budget address today was any mention of the proposal recently unveiled by the Vermont Agency of Human Services for a $150 million, 925-bed, privately-owned prison to be built near St. Albans. The administration’s proposal was released in the days leading up to the January 24th launch of Smart Justice Vermont, a statewide advocacy campaign to cut Vermont’s prisons in half and eliminate racial disparities in Vermont’s criminal justice system which are among the worst in the nation.
ACLU of Vermont executive director James Lyall:
“Vermont has made tremendous progress reforming its criminal justice system, with promising initiatives on bail reform, sentencing reform, racial justice, and drug policy still taking shape. We thank the Governor and other state leaders for supporting those efforts, and hope they will continue to do so for the benefit of all Vermonters. These reforms have the promise to drastically reduce incarceration rates, cut costs, permanently end Vermont's reliance on out-of-state prisons, and more rapidly and effectively achieve the system improvements and needed services that the administration’s proposal seeks to address.
The administration’s report rightly highlights the need for long-term solutions, including investments in Vermont’s mental health system, and Governor Scott should be applauded for that. But to be clear, those improvements can be achieved more quickly and effectively by downsizing the existing prison system and maintaining Vermont’s longstanding commitment to community-based services, not by committing $150 million to expand centralized penal institutions.
Even more troubling is the prospect of using Vermont taxpayer dollars to support the notorious private prison industry. Companies like CoreCivic seek to profit on human misery. The industry has been shown time and again to value profits over people, systematically cutting corners and causing countless preventable deaths and human suffering. It supports policies that further criminalize immigrants and communities of color, and has opposed criminal justice reform efforts.
Any proposal that would contribute Vermont taxpayer dollars to private prison companies should be dead on arrival. We hope that anyone who supports the bipartisan movement for criminal justice reform will recognize that private prisons have no place in that movement or in Vermont. Rather than lining the pockets of companies like CoreCivic to build more prisons, we should be increasing our investments in people, families, schools, and communities.
With our partners, the ACLU looks forward to introducing and advancing a different vision for Vermont's criminal justice system in the days ahead.”