Justice Reinvestment in Vermont
Between 2007 and 2008, Vermont first used a data-driven Justice Reinvestment approach to address the state’s rising prison population, reduce corrections spending, and reinvest savings in strategies to improve public safety. As a result of this effort, Vermont passed Justice Reinvestment legislation in 2008, which improved screening and assessment for behavioral health treatment needs, increased access to community-based substance addiction treatment programs, focused supervision resources on people most likely to reoffend, and expanded transitional housing opportunities and job training programs.
Between 2009 and 2013, the state reinvested $6.3 million in transitional housing, electronic monitoring, and substance addiction treatment in prisons and in the community. Vermont’s incarcerated population fell 16 percent between 2008 and 2018, from 2,053 to 1,724.
Despite these successes, however, there were a number of key issues that the state continued to grapple with. The state’s pretrial population increased 30 percent between 2008 and 2018, and prison facilities were operating 138 percent above their design capacity. Between 2007 and 2017, all categories of violent crime increased 33 percent, representing a modest growth in the volume of these crimes but a noticeable trend across the state. Although 80 percent of the total population under state correctional control was on probation or parole, the state was unable to identify certain key data, including how many people on probation were revoked to jail or prison, what types of violations people were revoked for, and their length of stay when they returned. Finally, the state’s drug overdose death rate increased 115 percent—from 10.8 deaths per 100,000 residents to 23.2 deaths—between 2007 and 2017, which indicated a need for behavioral health treatment and other social supports, including medication-assisted treatment for people in the criminal justice system.
To build on prior efforts and address these current challenges, state leaders again embarked on a Justice Reinvestment approach in the summer of 2019 with intensive technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center and support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.
As a result of Justice Reinvestment, Governor Phil Scott signed a bipartisan criminal justice bill in July 2020—S.338—aimed at reducing Vermont’s high recidivism rates by restructuring the state’s approach to community supervision, while also launching a focused effort to examine racial disparities in sentencing and in Vermont’s prisons. Under the new bill, parole eligibility will expand to include a system of presumptive parole, the furlough system will be streamlined, and new reporting related to sentencing and demographics will be required, among other measures.