Our communities are still grappling with the pandemic and its detrimental effects on mental health, addictions and affordable housing. It is clear that we still need to do much more to support each other and to build healthy, safe and vibrant communities.
Vermont voters know this. If there had been any doubt, the results of last week’s 2022 primary election established that voters expect their elected officials to reform our criminal justice system by investing in people rather than prisons.
For example, in the race for state attorneys in Chittenden County, the incumbent — Vermont’s first and only elected prosecutor to reform our wealth-based bail system and take action to address persistent racial disparities. in traffic checks – was challenged by a so-called “tough-to-delinquency candidate.
In the end, voters in each of Chittenden County’s 36 districts sent an emphatic message in support of criminal justice reform, reiterating their support for humane, fair and community-based solutions.
And it wasn’t just Chittenden County. In other local and national races, candidates who argued for a reinvention of public safety prevailed, while those who sought to roll back the clock did not.
The message is clear: Vermonters have long since moved on from the failed “tough on crime” policies of the past. They want their elected officials to reduce our reliance on prisons and reinvent public safety for the good of our communities.
As one local commentator put it, the results of the 2022 primary elections represent a “great victory for criminal justice reform.”
Now is the time to come together and work on solutions. And we know what those solutions are. We know we need to dramatically increase investments and strategies to address a mental health crisis – Burlington police alone have reported a 90% increase in mental health incidents over the past decade. It’s not something the police can or should solve.
We know we need to improve access to addiction treatment and expand harm reduction strategies. More Vermonters died of drug overdoses last year than ever before, and it’s time to respond with the bold and compassionate ideas Vermont is known for.
We know we need long-term investments to address the dire shortage of affordable housing — the number of people who are permanently homeless has doubled during the pandemic, and people are turning down jobs in Vermont for lack of housing. The short-term investments and initiatives that Vermont has pursued have not been up to the task — clearly we need to do more.
And, we know we need to pass common sense gun laws. Law enforcement calling for these reforms should be at the table in the next legislative biennium.
These are the things that ensure safe and thriving communities, and they are what Vermont voters rightly expect their elected officials to prioritize.
They also call for further progress in reforming our criminal justice system with policies based on evidence and data. These include ending our wealth-based bail system, reducing barriers to successful reintegration into the community for those released from prison, and prioritizing community justice programs over traditional punitive systems that have not made our communities safer.
Finally, Vermonters also expect the police to be accountable for their actions and to serve all of our communities fairly and with integrity. We still don’t have the policies in place to foster a stronger culture of accountability in law enforcement, and all of us — including law enforcement officials — should have a keen interest in changing that. .
The fact remains that as a society we have grossly underfunded our social safety net for generations. We cannot expect police and corrections officers to compensate for this or fix it for us – and we cannot continue to ignore the disproportionate harm done to BIPOC communities, especially Black Vermonters when we do.
We invite everyone who calls Vermont home, including those in law enforcement who recognize the need to move forward together, to join us in ensuring that communities have the resources and reforms they need to prosper.
James Duff Lyall is the executive director of the ACLU of Vermont.