There was some welcome news from Vermont’s Eternal General about a month back. Bill Sorrell had begun a series of public hearings on the subject of incarceration — specifically, whether Vermont is putting too many people behind bars. Sorrell and others are gauging public sentiment on the question, and considering whether the Legislature should “adopt a resolution to steer Vermont’s criminal justice system away from incarceration,” according to VTDigger’s account.
Sorrell being Sorrell, he cautioned that nothing much would happen anytime soon.
“It would be like moving a battleship through thousands of individual decisions by prosecutors and judges, and in no small part on the decisions by corrections personnel on when the individual is released,” Sorrell told VTDigger.
Still, if this is how Sorrell plans to spend a chunk of his final year in office, then bully for him. We’ve been imprisoning more and more people for the past three decades, with no appreciable effect on public safety. Our prison population is aging and getting more expensive. It also features an appalling over-representation of Vermont’s teeny-tiny black population.
African-Americans make up just 1 percent of the population of a state that is 95.3 percent white, yet they make up 10.3 percent of Vermont inmates. Put another way, a Vermont inmate is more than 10 times as likely as a resident at large to be African-American.
So if Vermont’s top law enforcement official is on board with reducing incarceration rates, that’s a really great thing. More power to him.
One question, though.
Where the hell was Bill Sorrell all this time?
ICYMI, for the past two decades of our mass incarceration binge, he’s been Vermont’s top law enforcement official. So, welcome to the party, Bill. Sorry it took you so long to get here.