Is 'Life Without Parole' Still Necessary?

Mar 22, 2019

Life in prison with no chance of parole is the harshest punishment possible in Vermont. Some see it as a necessary sentence for the worst crimes, whiles others see it as an unforgiving punishment devoid of hope for rehabilitation. We're talking about what life without parole means for public safety, rehabilitation and deterrence, and for the cost of the justice system in Vermont.

Sixteen Vermont inmates are now serving life without parole, but some want to eliminate the sentence entirely.

Chittenden Rep. Brian Cina has authored a bill to eliminate the sentence and rubstitute a minimum of 25 years to life. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Thomas Powell, a licensed clinical psychologist and former director of clinical services for the Vermont Department of Corrections, says Vermont has the flexibility to find alternatives, but life without parole should be among them.

"I have seen some people who really occupy a very unique perch in this whole continuum, and they don’t change. We’ve tried everything," Powell says.

"We can sort this population pretty well, and the vast majority of offenders are entirely recoverable, and retrainable and rehabilitative," Powell tells Vermont Edition. 

He adds Vermont has "one of the best program arrays in the country" for risk reduction and sex offender treatment.

But those who aren't helped by such programs are cases Powell says prove the need for life without parole.

Powell says there remain some people who are not helped by such programs, "and in fact, some of the most egregious cases have been through those programs and failed."

Peter Langrock, a former Addison County prosecutor who's now a trial attorney and founding partner of the law firm Langrock, Sperry and Wool, says Vermont shouldn’t decide today about what might possibly help people rehabilitate in the future.

"Thirty years ago, we didn’t know what DNA is. We may have ways of dealing with [these individuals] 30 years out," Langrock says.

"Why we can say now that we are predicting exactly what the situation will be, and we should control that now, I can’t agree with that."

Listen to the full conversation above to hear more from Langrock and Powell about the use of life without parole in Vermont.

Broadcast live on Monday, March 25, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.