Category Archives: justice and corrections

Now Comes ACLU-VT, Shootin’ Fire

This summer, we’ve been treated to lamentations by official Burlington — and wildly outlandish claims from rural conservatives — about the onslaught of violent crime that threatens the peace and tranquility of the Queen City (group A) or has turned Burlington into a lawless hellhole (group B).

Well, the ACLU of Vermont is calling bullshit. In a thorough and well-researched letter to Mayor Miro, ACLU-VT’s general counsel Jay Diaz demolishes the lamentations and presents a strong case for the idea that actually, Burlington is a lot safer than it was a few years ago despite the shrinkage in the Police Department.

Man, the facts can be so inconvenient, can’t they?

The letter is well worth reading in its entirety, but here are some highlights.

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New Report Finds Global Stupiding Is a Threat to Humanity

This week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Stupid shone a bright light on the existential threat posed by rising levels of stupidity. The IPS says atmospheric releases of stupid are reaching all-time highs, imperiling our capacity to respond to serious issues. This new crop of Veepies gives a measure of validation to the report; we’ve got some real doozies on our hands, folks.

The Tucker Carlson Memorial Award for Profitable Fearmongering goes to Chelsea Green Publishing. The firm that has produced quite a few notable books in the earth-friendly category has a hit on its hands, not to mention blood. Earlier this year, CG published a book co-authored by Joseph Mercola, “the world’s leading source of online coronavirus misinformation.” And the book, “The Truth About Covid-19,” lives up to the author’s reputation.

The book, per the Valley News, asserts that “the pandemic was preplanned as a tool of global elites who want to strengthen their control of the economy.” It also casts doubt on coronavirus vaccines, while promoting supplements sold by, ahem, Joseph Mercola. The book has already sold 250,000 copies

To judge by her comments, CG president Margo Baldwin is a Covid denier herself. She claims the book went through a rigorous editorial process, and blamed the mainstream media for “creating a climate of fear and misinformation.” I have a few CG books on my shelf; rest assured I won’t be buying any more.

Still to come: Another cock-up at UVM, a deeply flawed “survey” from Burlington, and the Bennington cops get a meaningless bauble.

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Hello Stupid, My Old Friend

Now that the Olympics are over, let us return to our regularly scheduled awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere. Unlike Olympic champions, you won’t see these honorees standing tall and proud while their national anthem is played.

In the leadoff spot we have the Remind Me, Whose House Is This Again? Award, which goes to State Rep. Alice Emmons, for publicly pondering whether reporters should be barred from the Statehouse.

Emmons, chair of the House Corrections & Institutions Committee, is the longest-serving state lawmaker, and has a prickly attitude toward the media. I once saw her berate a reporter in front of a couple dozen people, because the reporter dared to record a committee hearing on his phone. Technically, people are supposed to check with the chair before recording, but that rule is never, ever enforced. Except when Emmons gets a bee in her bonnet. So reading this passage in VTDigger wasn’t much of a surprise:

Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, told the Joint Legislative Management Committee that while “we want to make sure the press is available to our work,” she is unsure “how that happens on their end.” She said that while it’s possible the press will be allowed to cover the Legislature in person in 2022, “they could also do it by Zoom.”

Yes, they could. But c’mon, if you’re reopening the Statehouse, you’ve got to let the reporters in. It’s a little thing called “freedom of the press.”

After the jump: A doomed attack line, a twisting of history, and the flimsiest felony,

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Through a Monitor, Darkly

More happy tidings concerning the much-ballyhooed “culture change” in the Vermont Department of Corrections in a VTDigger story about how state prisons are being reopened to visitors. The answer is slowly and incompletely, with strings attached. Unlike, say, the Scott administration’s policy toward the reopening of Vermont otherwise, which is to immediately remove all restraints.

The story also contains other tidbits that underscore the administration’s broader attitude toward inmates: that they don’t really deserve to be treated with dignity. There’s an undercurrent of “Inmates did something wrong and must be punished.” You see this over and over again in administration policy.

The DOC refused to prioritize inmates for vaccination, despite multiple outbreaks of Covid-19 inside our prisons. (Human Services Secretary made an absolute hash out of trying to explain that policy.) It put Covid-positive inmates into solitary confinement, which meant cruelly restrictive conditions normally reserved for the worst miscreants.

Now, the DOC is taking a go-slow approach to allowing visitors. “We want to make sure everybody is safe when we do this,” said Al Cormier, DOC director of operations. Gee, too bad that wasn’t the policy when inmates were made to wait their turn for vaccination even though they were demonstrably at high risk, and they could have been easily served because they’re all gathered in a handful of locations.

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The Veepies, Again: Too Fast, Too Furious

For those just joining us, The Veepies are my occasional awards for stupidity in the public sphere. We’re still setting a brisk pace in that regard. So, here we go…

The We Gave You a Crappy Half-Apology Because We Had To, But We Really Didn’t Mean It Award goes to the Bennington Selectboard. Last month, the town reached a settlement with former state representative Kiah Morris over the police department’s actions, or inactions, regarding threats against Morris. This came after the state Human Rights Commission issued a preliminary finding that the Bennington PD had discriminated against Morris and her husband James Lawton. As part of the deal, Bennington had to issue a formal apology. And it was kind of half-assed, blame-the-victim stuff: “It is clear that Kiah, James and their family felt unsafe and unprotected by the town of Bennington.”

See, it’s not that the town did anything wrong; it’s just that Morris and her family felt unsafe. Put the onus on the victim. But wait, there’s more!

Whatever little value there was in that “apology” was completely undercut by the town’s attorney Michael Leddy, who insisted that there are “no reasonable grounds to believe” that the town was guilty of discrimination, and by Selectboard chair Jeanne Jenkins, who told VTDigger last week doesn’t believe the police department discriminated against Morris.

All they will acknowledge is that Morris “felt unsafe.” Well, Morris and her family have since relocated to Chittenden County, so problem solved, I guess?

After the jump: Empty climate rhetoric, Medicaid money for school cops, and propping up a dying industry.

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There Is No Vaccine for Stupid: The Veepies Return Again

When I launched this series, I had no idea how often I’d have enough material for another edition. Turns out, it takes roughly one week. That’s almost one story per day. Here we go again with a healthy dose of Stupidity in the Public Sphere…

The Try to Fix a Problem, It Comes Back, Try the Same Thing Again, It Doesn’t Work, Try It Again, Another Fail, Try Again, You Know What They Say About History Repeating Itself Award goes to the Scott Administration for failing to address the repeated failures of the Labor Department. The weekend brought yet another story about unemployed Vermonters waiting weeks to get their checks or hours on hold to the Department’s call center.

It’s been one thing after another for DOL since the beginning of the pandemic. Its excuses have some truth in them; the UI system is a victim of long-term negligence at the federal level, and last spring’s tsunami of unemployment claims was unprecedented and unforeseeable.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington was dealt a bad hand, but he’s played it poorly. He has overseen failure after failure. Not only was he not fired or punished or removed to a quiet corner of the DMV, he actually got a promotion while his department was in flames. But it’s not all on him.

After the jump: Conspiracy theorists get their minute in court, a town ducks a feel-bad story, and a newspaper trolls avidly for advertisers’ favor.

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A Curious Absence of Drama

As I wrote in my last post, this legislative session looked to be a difficult one at its onset. But there’s been a nearly complete lack of drama, as the House and Senate have made their way through allocating federal Covid relief aid, tackling Covid-related challenges, running the Big Bills smoothly through, and also addressing a notable number of issues that could easily have been kicked down the road till next year. As is common practice in the first year of a biennium.

It’s time to give House and Senate leadership a lot of credit for this. Things are getting done with no untimely eruptions, bruised feelings or twisted arms, no visible splits in the majority caucuses. No muss, no fuss.

What makes this more remarkable is that the two leaders, House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint , are each in their first year. Past leadership changes have usually brought rocky times in Year One. Houses-Senate relations get awfully tetchy.

Not this year. And that’s remarkable.

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Bangs and Whimpers

The Senate Judiciary Committee did it again Friday morning. After having put up a royal fuss about a bill that passed easily in the House, members quickly folded their tents and moved the bill along with maybe a change or two.

This time it was H.225, the bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of buprenorphine. The House had passed it overwhelmingly, but its fate in the Senate seemed uncertain. Now, suddenly, it looks like clear sailing.

The committee didn’t take a formal vote, because technically the bill is in the purview of the Rules Committee. But all five Judiciary members indicated support for H.225 with the addition of a two-year sunset provision. The bill would take effect upon passage and expire on July 1, 2023. Sens. Dick Sears and Joe Benning insisted on the sunset, because they have concerns about how the bill would work in real life.

Which is a bit absurd. The Legislature is always free to revisit any law that isn’t working as intended.

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We’ve Been Shortchanging Female Inmates for a Long Time

I don’t normally tune into a legislative committee hearing to get a history lesson. But that’s what I got Wednesday afternoon. It was a tough one to take.

Vermont’s women’s prison, d/b/a Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, is in really bad shape. It’s old, and was never designed to be a full-scale prison. It’s unsanitary and inadequate for inmates’ needs.

I knew that. What I didn’t know until today is that the CRCF has been that way since it first opened as a women’s prison back in 2011. The Shumlin administration moved female inmates into the already-aging facility knowing full well that it wasn’t up to par.

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Welp, Looks Like I Closed Out the Veepies a Bit Too Soon

Break out the tiny violins for Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears, who’s just getting run ragged because the House has passsed sooooo many law and justice related bills.

After just a few minutes of discussion around the best language to use to redefine consent in Vermont, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, trailed off mid-sentence, “to be honest with you, I’m fried,” he said.

My first reaction was “Aww, poor baby.” But given the quality of Judiciary’s work lately, it might be best if they simply shut down for the year. The panel’s recent actions have made them worthy of The Kids in the Hall Award for Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Series.

Sears’ comment was reported by VTDigger’s Ellie French on Friday evening, shortly after I’d closed the books on the first ever Veepie Awards for Outstanding Stupidity on Public Display. The context was Judiciary’s struggles over H.183, which would enact several steps aimed at better enforcement of sexual violence.

The bill is such a tough nut to crack that the committee is threatening to basically gut it. Sen. Phil Baruth complained that “It’s not unusual for the House to put us in a position where we get things that are controversial or tough to deal with.”

Yeah, it was so controversial that it passed the House on a voice vote. Sheesh.

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