In Memoriam: Honoring Advisory Board Member and Justice Champion Senator Richard Sears, Jr.

June 5, 2024

We at The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center are deeply saddened by news of the passing of Vermont Senator Richard (Dick) Sears, Jr., at age 81. Senator Sears was a long-serving and passionate member of the CSG Justice Center’s Advisory Board. 

In addition to being the key justice reform leader in Vermont for many decades, Senator Sears also helped advocate for federal support to states to reduce recidivism through the federal Second Chance Act and Justice Reinvestment Initiatives.  

“Most special to us was his longtime service on the CSG Justice Center’s Advisory Board. He was a wellspring of generosity and the epitome of the dedicated public servant,” said Megan Quattlebaum, director of the CSG Justice Center. “Senator Sears never forgot the people on whose behalf he was working. In a choice between head and heart, he said a hearty ‘yes’ to both.” 

A passionate, long-time advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, Senator Sears devoted his career to improving public safety for all. He worked in residential programs for young people for more than three decades. As a member of the Vermont Senate since 1993, he championed reforms to the state’s systems of justice and safety for youth and adults. Among his many accomplishments, Senator Sears  

  • Convened and served on numerous task forces, committees, and boards to improve access to services;  
  • Expanded opportunities for diversion away from the justice system when appropriate; and  
  • Improved the functioning of law enforcement and sentencing policy.  

In particular, he focused on reducing recidivism and decreasing prison populations by improving probation, parole, furlough, and both prison- and community-based treatment and reentry programming.  

At a time when Vermont’s prison population was projected to increase, Senator Sears worked to bring stakeholders from all three branches of government and across the state together to work with the CSG Justice Center on a justice reinvestment effort that resulted in changes to policy, practice, and budget that helped reduce both recidivism and the size of the prison population.  And on two occasions, he led the charge to convene stakeholders for separate Justice Reinvestment Initiatives.  

Marshall Clement, deputy director of the CSG Justice Center, said, “Senator Sears relentlessly led the charge to improve Vermont’s justice and safety systems by bringing everyone around the table to tackle everything from what was driving racial disparities in sentencing to strengthening and streamlining the state’s policies for transitioning people from incarceration to the community and how best to support them upon release.”  

There is so much more to say about Senator Sears and his life and impact. For the moment, our thoughts and sympathies are with the many people who loved him and cared for him. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him and had the privilege of working with him.  

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