Schubart: Rethinking Prison

Mar 21, 2019

Over the course of what’s now adding up to nearly a lifetime in Vermont, I’ve enjoyed being active in various cultural, civic and business organizations, including the ACLU. And at times, I’ve been called upon to advise state leaders from college presidents to corrections officials. So it’s from this perspective that I say with considerable confidence that it’s time to close the South Burlington Women’s facility, or CRCF.

The facility itself is said to be a shambles. The Dept. of Corrections is resisting efforts by the media , the ACLU, and criminal justice reform groups to get information released on conditions inside.

Originally built to confine 100 men, it now houses some 150 women; about a dozen have violent histories and need supervision. Another 25 or so have committed property crimes stemming from simple greed, poverty, or addiction – with the rest either awaiting trial and too poor to post bail or they are past release dates but have no viable housing. Most share a history of trauma including abuse, neglect, or addiction, for which they’re receiving inadequate support.

There’s mounting support for closing CRCF this year and transitioning the few women who need supervision to the existing system with extra security precautions as needed.

The legislature and the Dept. of Corrections are currently considering how to repatriate Vermont prisoners now housed in Mississippi, and it’s becoming clear to some that instead of new prisons, we need to reduce the causes of crime such as poverty and addiction and we need to develop more cost-effective alternatives to incarceration, like treatment, training, and restorative justice.

There’s already agreement on the need to reform sentencing, reduce our reliance on incarceration, and create opportunities for people transitioning from supervision into our communities.

Instead of spending about eighty thousand dollars annually to keep a woman in prison and about fifty thousand for each man – we should be investing in healing the damage, both for crime victims and those resorting to criminal behavior.

There will always be a need to supervise people who have committed violent offenses, but there are other options that are less expensive and offer prisoners a path to safely reenter society, better equipped to lead productive lives.