For immediate release: October 30, 2014
(BURLINGTON, Vermont) — A letter signed by nearly thirty Vermont organizations, groups and businesses was delivered to the Administration and to political candidates today calling for the return of Vermonters from out-of-state, private, for- profit prisons. Letter signatories believe taxpayer dollars would be better spent on sustainable supports to keep people out of prison and serve those re-entering society.
The range of Vermont groups/businesses that signed on include Vermont Interfaith Action, Main St. Landing, Vermont Workers Center, Small Dog Electronics, ACLU-Vt., Mercy Connections, Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, Umbrella, NEK Allies for Racial Justice, Kingdom Recovery Center, Vermont Legal Aid, and Vt. Association of Court Diversion Programs among others.
Suzi Wizowaty, director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, says, “This list is just the tip of the iceberg. The whole conversation is changing, nationally and in Vermont, as more and more people understand that this over-incarceration of citizens, which has required shipping our overflow out of state, isn’t working—and that we can do something about it.”
The letter cites the problems associated with shipping prisoners far from home, including the emotional and financial burdens placed on the families and friends who cannot make the trip to visit their loved one out-of-state. Sha’an Mouliert, a Vermont mother whose son is serving his prison sentence in Kentucky, said “I have not seen my son since 2007 as I live on a fixed, limited income and cannot afford to see him. My son has children and he does not see them growing up.” Mouliert went on to say, “I’m missing him. I want my son back in Vermont.”
Vermont prisoners have also written letters from inside the Kentucky private prison to tell their stories of isolation, which research has shown to diminish chances of successful reintegration into society. Freeman Patten, a Vermont inmate currently in Kentucky, writes, “My father is 82-years-old and he is not in good health. He is not physically capable of making the trip down here to visit me. I have been down here now for three years. My worst fear is that my father is going to pass away without me being able to see him one last time.”
Allen Gilbert, director of the ACLU-Vt., says, “Over-incarceration is a national problem. And Vermont has begun to acknowledge we’re part of the problem. We lock up too many people and we send too many people to private out-of-state prisons.”
Other Vermont leaders, whose organizations have not yet signed on, nevertheless expressed their support. Rabbi Joshua Chasan of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington asks, "What kind of a people are we in Vermont where we incarcerate people with mental health and other addiction problems? The tremendous increase in the number of prisoners in the State of Vermont — so many we have to send some out of state — must raise questions for all of us who consider Vermont a humane state."
Karen Richards, executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, agrees, saying, “The State can and should make better use of alternatives to reduce incarceration rates including restorative justice and treatment for mental health issues and addiction. Funding currently being used to house non-violent offenders could then be repurposed to provide the treatment and services necessary to help former offenders be successful and productive members of their communities.”
Vermonters have begun to organize for change, and letter signatories are calling on the Administration and General Assembly for their support. The letter was delivered by Grassroots Leadership and Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, coordinators of the Locked Up and Shipped Away-Vermont Campaign. View the letter online here.
Suzi Wizowaty, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, firstname.lastname@example.org, (802) 864-5651
Holly Kirby, Grassroots Leadership, email@example.com, (501) 339-1003