Over the past two decades, Vermont has worked to actively understand and address complex and persistent challenges in its criminal justice system, including undertaking two separate JRI processes. Produced at the request of the JR II Working Group, this report demonstrates Vermont’s ongoing commitment to using a data-driven approach to achieve a safer, more equitable, and more just system statewide. It summarizes important findings that highlight the extent to which disparities exist at key decision-making points in the court system, with an eye toward identifying potential drivers of racial disparities in the state’s incarcerated population.
Results indicate that Black people are more likely than White people to be defendants in both misdemeanor and felony cases, without adjusting for other factors. This suggests that prior to cases coming to the court, there are differences in community factors and/or criminal justice system decision-making that contribute to disparities in the volume of cases coming into the court system. Additionally, after accounting for key case and defendant characteristics, evidence did not suggest that Black people are more likely to be convicted of most offenses, or that incarceration sentence length differs between Black and White people. However, when similarly situated Black and White defendants were compared, there was consistent evidence of racial disparities that disadvantage Black people in the decision to incarcerate; this was true even when the analysis was restricted to defendants from Vermont.
The disparities identified in this analysis underscore the need for actionable policy change. In this vein, the five recommendations in this report offer data-driven strategies Vermont can employ to create a more equitable justice system, and in November 2021, JR II Working Group members voted to move forward with all of them. However, it is important to note that sentencing is only one driver of the racial disparities in incarceration identified in Vermont and there is more work to be done. Initiatives such as RDAP’s Office of Racial Justice Statistics can provide Vermont with the data analysis capacity to examine other potential drivers at key decision-making points in the system, including arrest, pretrial, charging, and plea bargaining. This information will be critical as Vermont continues to understand and address the compounding impacts of racial disparity within its criminal justice system.