Vermont Ranks Among The Highest in the Nation in Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice System – Why is this the case and is it getting any better?
Recently released research reveals the most problematic states facing challenges with racial disparities in the criminal justice system. This release focuses on Vermont and provides perspective and novel insight on the path forward from the report author as a well as a Vermont racial justice activist.
For immediate Release:
Montpelier, Vermont, June 27, 2016 – A new report on racial disparities in state prisons provides evidence of a disproportionately high rate of incarceration of African American Vermonters. “The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in State Prisons” from The Sentencing Project in Washington DC shows Vermont has the third highest rate in the United States of incarceration of black people in state prisons per 100,000 black residents. 2357 black Vermonters are incarcerated per 100,000 black residents. That compares to a rate of 225 whites per 100,000 white residents. The release of this report coincides with the recently released data form Vermont State Police and local agencies suggesting that traffic stop racial disparities have increased in Vermont over the past five years. I believe that this is as a result of the lack of transparency and a culture of denial” said Mark Hughes, Co-founder of Vermont Justice For All.
The [Color of Justice] report shows rates of incarceration of adult black men vary across the nation from as high as 1 in 14 in Vermont to as low as 1 in 61 in Hawaii. With the inclusion of jail and federal inmates the rate would be even higher. Hughes went on to say, “In moving forward it is important that we move past using the collection of data to prove (or disprove) racial disparity, to that of using it to measure our progress towards parity. Consistent collection of race related metrics data, made available to the public ensures accountability and facilitates continuous internal analysis to ensure effective program management.”
Awareness of racial disparities in prison populations is not new, and there have been numerous attempts to identify the causes. As “The Color of Justice” highlights, research shows that racial differences in offending rates are not enough to explain the disparities, particularly for less serious crimes and drug crimes.
“What the report shows is that, despite the efforts Vermont has made to reduce racial disparities in incarceration, the problem persists,” said Dr. Ashley Nellis, Senior Researcher at The Sentencing Project who wrote the report. “There are decision points throughout the criminal justice system when law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and/or judges may be predisposed to view one group differently from another. Addressing this differential treatment through meaningful reform should be an urgent priority for state officials and those working within Vermont’s justice system.”
Vermont is 5th in the nation for Black : White racial disparities in the criminal justice system. 1 in 14 black men are incarcerated in a state prison in Vermont, compared to an average across all states of 1 in 26. Hughes said, “Law makers in Vermont must mandate the transparency required to identify points of discretion in the criminal justice system and demand commitment to metrics, policy, training and corrective actions from law enforcement as well as prosecutors, judges and defenders as required to ensure that Vermont lives up to it’s narrative of openness and fairness. “
Dr. Ashley Nellis, Senior Researcher at The Sentencing Project and Mark Hughes, Co-founder, Justice For All are each available for interview.
About Justice For All
Justice for All is a Vermont-based, racial justice non-profit organization that identifies and dismantles institutionalized racism and facilitates healing and empowerment in Vermont communities. They ensure justice for all through community organizing, research, education, community policing, legislative reform and judicial monitoring. To this end they address systemic issues such as racially biased policing and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.