Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:
WVTI · WOXM · WVBA · WVNK · WVTQ · WVTX
WVPR · WRVT · WOXR · WNCH · WVPA
WVPS · WVXR · WETK · WVTB · WVER
WVER-FM · WVLR-FM · WBTN-FM

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact hello@vermontpublic.org or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Vermont is imprisoning a record number of people not yet convicted of crimes

A wooden gavel on a table with a blurry bookshelf in the background.
vladans
/
iStock
There are over 500 pre-trial detainees in Vermont prisons as of Tuesday, which represents a 25% increase from five years ago, according to new data from the Vermont Department of Corrections.

A record number of Vermonters are being held in prison for crimes they haven’t yet been convicted of.

Lawmakers such as Springfield Rep. Alice Emmons, the Democratic chair of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions, have been working for decades to reduce incarceration rates in Vermont.

When Emmons found out during a legislative hearing Tuesday morning that the state has more pre-trial detainees behind bars than at any point in state history, she said she was taken aback.

“I was stunned,” Emmons said. “Something’s out of whack.”

The 548 pre-trial detainees in Vermont prisons as of Tuesday morning, according to data from the Vermont Department of Corrections, represents a 25% increase from five years ago.

Corrections officials said the spike could be the result of courts finally working through their pandemic backlogs. Emmons, however, wonders if prosecutors are asking judges to hold more alleged offenders in custody without bail in response to growing concerns over public safety.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont is still struggling to reduce its pandemic-era court case backlog

“So are the number of these folks there because of risk of flight? Is it due to concerns with public safety? Or is it all intertwined?” she said. “And I think we need to start teasing out the numbers.”

Falko Schilling, advocacy director at the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Vermont Public Tuesday that the increase is cause for concern.

“Every single day that a person spends in jail makes it more likely that they’re going to lose their job, lose their home, lose their connection to community and make it harder for them to be a productive member of society,” Schilling said. “On top of that, this is one of the most expensive ways we can deal with problems that face our community.”

"Every single day that a person spends in jail makes it more likely that they’re going to lose their job, lose their home, lose their connection to community and make it harder for them to be a productive member of society."
Falko Schilling, ACLU of Vermont

Schilling said the spike in pre-trial detainees may be a symptom of a tougher-on-crime mentality that informed legislative policy in the Statehouse earlier this year.

“I would not be surprised if some of this increase is coming from prosecutors and judges who feel emboldened to hold people in jail without being convicted because of some of the troubling rhetoric we’ve been hearing coming out of Montpelier,” he said. “When we lock people up, that doesn’t disappear the problems that we have in our communities. That just disappears people from our communities.”

Emmons said lawmakers will look deeper into the numbers this summer to better understand the reasons for the increase.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

_

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
Latest Stories