Press Release

Criminal Legal Reform Advocates Urge Passage of Second Look Legislation in Vermont

Criminal legal reform advocates, experts, survivors of violent crime, and justice-impacted individuals hosted a Day of Empathy in Vermont, where they urged policymakers to pass reforms to the state's criminal legal system.

Related to: Sentencing Reform, Incarceration

(Montpelier, Vermont) Criminal legal reform advocates, experts, survivors of violent crime, and justice-impacted individuals hosted a Day of Empathy on Thursday, March 14, where they urged 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.

“Vermont likes to think of itself as a progressive state, but over the past 20 years, the state has only increased its reliance on harsh, lengthy sentences. This has had a disproportionate impact on Black people in Vermont,” said Alexandra Bailey of The Sentencing Project. “Incarcerating people long past their proclivity, and even their physical ability, to commit crime is a poor use of taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on solutions that actually prevent crime, like investing in food security, affordable housing, and mental health services. It’s time for Vermont legislators to pass Senate Bill 155 and create a more just, humane, and fair criminal legal system.”

Life sentences with no chance for review or release contradict the well-documented and predictable patterns in criminal conduct. People who have committed a crime, even a violent crime, have relatively short criminal careers and tend to commit crime in their youth and young adulthood. Excessively long sentences that carry into one’s middle-age and elderly years, as well as those that extend beyond 20 years, provide diminishing public safety benefits because people are incarcerated long past their point of dangerousness.

The Day of Empathy closed out with a screening of the documentary “District of Second Chances.” The film, produced by FAMM, takes viewers on an emotional journey through the lives of three men from Washington, DC, who were sentenced to life in prison during the 1990s but are presented with a chance for freedom and a fresh start. The film helps illustrate the real-life impact of “second chance” legislation through the eyes of those it directly affects. “The stories of Pete, Gene and Colie were so inspirational. I’m thrilled that Vermont’s policymakers and advocates had the opportunity to watch the film and understand just why second-look legislation is so critical and to see clearly how it affects lives,” said Brashani Reece, Executive Director of Drop LWOP New England.

Second look legislation like Vermont’s Senate Bill 155 acknowledges that individuals can change over time. Many people who were sentenced to long prison terms for crimes committed when they were young may have undergone significant personal growth, rehabilitation, and maturation during their incarceration. Resentencing offers them an opportunity to demonstrate their rehabilitation and reintegrate into society.

“Senate Bill 155 offers a vital opportunity for reflection and reassessment—a chance to ensure that sentences align with the principles of proportionality and humanity. By embracing second look legislation, we affirm our belief in the capacity for growth and change within every individual. It’s a pathway toward healing and restoration, not just for incarcerated people, but for our communities as a whole,” said Senator Tanya Vyhovsky, Democrat Chittenden-Central District. I urge legislators to pass Senate Bill 155 as soon as possible.”

The number of people in Vermont serving life without the possibility of parole has increased since 2009, which is a statistic that stands at odds with the state’s attempts to scale back prison population growth. 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.

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