Between 2007 and 2008, Vermont first used a Justice Reinvestment approach to address a projected 24 percent increase in the state’s prison population by 2018.
As a result of this effort, Vermont passed Justice Reinvestment legislation in 2008 (House Bill 859), 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. To accomplish this, Vermont implemented policies and practices across agencies.
After JRI, Vermont successfully decreased its prison population by 16 percent, and reinvested an estimated $6.3 million in evidence-based correctional supports and services to reduce recidivism. Five years after the bill’s passage, the state closed its most expensive prison and saved $18 million in prison costs, while the violent crime rate fell by 5 percent.1
JRI-Driven Policies and Practices
- Establish/revise presentence assessment
- Establish/improve electronic monitoring
- Reduce probation terms or active supervision period
- Improve behavioral health interventions
Following Vermont’s first JRI effort, the prison population fell 16 percent, and the state was able to reinvest an estimated $6.3 million in correctional supports and services. Despite these successes, however, there were a number of key issues that the state continued to grapple with. Vermont prison facilities were still operating at 138 percent above their design capacity. The state also struggled 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. To address these issues, the state employed JRI for a second time in 2019 with technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center.
As a result of JRI, then-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. S.338 created a system of presumptive parole, streamlined the furlough system, and required reporting related to demographics and sentencing, among other measures. As a result, Vermont implemented several policy and practice changes across agencies.2
As a result of JRI, Vermont increased earned time from 5 to 7 days per month for individuals in prison and on furlough and established presumptive parole to reduce reliance on the furlough supervision system. The state also streamlined the furlough system for increased consistency in how people are released and supervised in the community. These changes helped address Vermont’s overcapacity prisons and improved community supervision, contributing to the state’s 32 percent decline in the incarcerated population and the 50 percent decline in out-of-state housing from July 2019 to December 2021.3 Community supervision decreased 33 percent from July 2019 to June 2022, and the furlough population has declined 40 percent since March 2021.4 Further, Vermont invested in IT system upgrades to provide previously unavailable data for community supervision demographics and ongoing data monitoring support.
For more information, see Justice Reinvestment in Vermont.
JRI-Driven Policies and Practices
- Revise parole hearings/decision/eligibility standards
- Expand good-time/earned-time prison credits/reentry leave
- Establish/expand presumptive parole for qualifying cases
- Authorize/develop/modify graduated response or matrices for violations
- Increase standard of proof when considering probation revocations
- Require evidence-based practices
- Require data collection/performance measures
- Establish measures to streamline/improve efficiency of system
- Invest in Batterer Intervention Programs (BIPs)
- Address disparate treatment by race, gender, or culture
1 Madeleine Dardeau and Lorretta Sackey, November 2022, “Vermont: Monitoring Data Trends after 2020 Justice Reinvestment Reforms,”New York, NY: The Council of State Governments Justice Center, retrieved May 19, 2023 from https://csgjusticecenter.org/publications/vermont-monitoring-data-trends-after-2020-justice-reinvestment-initiative-reforms/.