Press Release

Criminal Legal Reform Advocates Host Day Of Empathy at Vermont Statehouse

Supporters push for a “second look” at extreme sentences

Related to: Sentencing Reform, State Advocacy

(MONTPELIER, Vt.) On Thursday, March 14, 2024, criminal legal reform advocates, experts, survivors, and justice-impacted individuals will host a Day of Empathy in Montpelier urging policymakers to pass reforms to Vermont’s criminal legal system, including Senate Bill 155, a bill that would eliminate life without parole and implement second look sentencing.

Senate Bill 155 would create a universal opportunity for a second look at criminal sentences. This legislation would allow individuals to petition a court for resentencing after they have served whichever is less: 10 years in custody of the Department of Corrections, or at least 50 percent of their sentence, provided they were sentenced to at least five years of incarceration, or upon the consent of the prosecutor.

The number of people serving Vermont’s most extreme sentence, life without the possibility of parole, has increased since 2009, which stands at odds with the state’s attempts to scale back prison population growth. Vermont’s Department of Corrections reports that 20% of the state’s prison population are serving sentences of life with parole, life without parole, or a “virtual life sentence” of 50 years or more, which means a person is serving a non-life sentence that is so long that they will likely die or live out a significant majority of their lives before they are released.

Vermont far surpasses the national average in terms of imprisonment length: Nationally, 1 in 7 people in prison is serving a life sentence, but in Vermont, that number is 1 in 5. In fact, Vermont has more people serving life sentences today than the number of people who made up its entire prison population in 1970. So many people have been sentenced to lengthy sentences in Vermont that the state’s Department of Corrections contracts with a private prison company in Tutwiler, Mississippi, to house incarcerated individuals out-of-state. Several Vermont citizens have died during their time being held at this facility.

The Day of Empathy will conclude with a screening of “District of Second Chances,” (trailer available here) a documentary produced by FAMM that takes viewers on an emotional journey through the lives of Anthony “Pete” Petty, Gene Downing, and Colie “Shaka” Levar Long: three men from Washington, DC, who were sentenced to life in prison during the 1990s but are now presented with a chance for freedom and a fresh start. The film brings to light the real-life impact of “second chance” legislation through the eyes of those it directly affects.

The Day of Empathy events open to press include:

  • 10:00AM: Press conference in the Cedar Creek Room at the Vermont Statehouse with Senator Tanya Vyhovsky (D-Chittenden-Central District), impacted families, survivors, and advocates
  • 5:00 to 8:00PM: Cocktail reception at The Inn at Montpelier with documentary screening of “District of Second Chances,” a film produced by the FAMM Foundation

Members of the media are encouraged to attend the Day of Empathy and Screening and can RSVP at:

Thursday, March 14, 2024
Press conference begin at 10AM; reception in the evening at 5PM

Day of Empathy coalition:

  • ACLU of Vermont
  • CURE Vermont
  • Drop LWOP New England
  • The Sentencing Project
  • Vermont Just Justice
  • Families for Justice Reform (FAMM)

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