Category Archives: justice and corrections

TJ steps up

Will wonders never cease. No sooner than the U.S. Justice Department decides to ease its way out of the private prison business, than the Democratic candidate for Attorney General forcefully advocates the same move for Vermont.

What’s more, he believes it will be simple. From an email blast received Saturday evening:

There is a lot we need to do for criminal justice reform, but most people would agree that we should stop shipping Vermonters to out-of-state, for-profit prisons.

… This is one obvious step I believe we can take in the first 100 days of the next legislative session in 2017.

Well.

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The feds pull back from private prisons; will Vermont follow?

The Justice Department wants to get out of the private prison business.

Its announcement follows last week’s release of am Inspector General’s report showing that for-profit prisons are failures by just about any metric.

… privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report.

All that, in spite of the fact that the inmates housed at for-profit prisons were “mostly low security” types.

Cherry on the sundae: the prisons “do not save substantially on costs,” according to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

This ought to be another nail in the coffin of the privatization movement, which promises more efficiency and lower costs, but in fact deliver poor service, healthy profits for contractors, and employment security for their lobbyists and lawyers.

Before we get to the implications for Vermont, here’s your Moment of Schadenfreude: share prices in the two biggest private-prison companies collapsed on Wall Street, closing down by more than one-third.

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Oh, and about that other ubiquitous crime wave…

One of the most eye-opening resuls from last month’s VPR Poll concerned substance abuse. When respondents were asked to name “the most important problem facing Vermont,” 17 percent named “drugs.” The only other issue scoring higher than six percent was “economy/jobs/cost of living” at 28 percent. And when asked specifically if opiate addiction is a major problem, a massive 89 percent agreed.

Even more striking were the figures for personal connections to opioid abuse. 53 percent have been affected by opiate addiction or know someone who has. And 94 percent “personally know” someone who has struggled with addiction.

Practically the entire state.

If we needed convincing that opiate addiction is a serious problem, we shouldn’t anymore.

But let’s take another pervasive issue of a similar scope. An issue that’s usually lost in the white noise, that’s never been the subject of a State of the State address.

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Incoherent Rifle-Wielding Man, Blah Blah Blah

In a time when America is averaging more than one mass shooting per day*, the good people of Burlington just suffered through several weeks of a homeless man riding his bike around town with a rifle strapped to his back.

*FBI definition: four or more people shot in a single incident, not including the shooter. We’ve had 29 in July so far. 

Per Seven Days’ Mark Davis, police “found [Malcolm Tanner] to be ‘incoherent,’ and he insisted that laws do not apply to him.” But they did nothing about him because “he did not seem to be breaking any laws.”

Tra la la.

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Son of Racism Is Bustin’ Out All Over

You think the deadly combo platter of two seemingly needless police killings of black men plus the Dallas killing of police officers by a black man has kinda lanced a boil on America’s psyche? Because everywhere there’s talk of racism — and the denial of same by white folks who are way too defensive about the whole thing.

Last week, I wrote about a bunch of racially-tinged incidents tainting the pure and blessed landscape of Vermont, and now we’ve got some more to share.

Coming up, signs that the authorities in Bennington Still Don’t Get It, even in the face of a potentially expensive lawsuit… and further evidence of cowardice in Vermont’s second city.

But first, the Burlington Free Press reports that some locals have their knickers in a knot because Ferrisburgh’s Rokeby Museum had the audacity to put up some “Black Lives Matter” placards.

The Rokeby is a small museum dedicated, in part, to Vermont’s role in the Underground Railroad. The Robinson family, who lived on the property, were Quaker abolitionists who sheltered runaway slaves. The signs were hung in May to honor “the legacy of the Robinsons as social justice activists.”

In the aftermath of the Dallas shootings, it’s gotten a little tense down Rokeby way.

A young man who came in to ask about the signs, became angry, thinking they supported violence against police and white people — himself included.

One person called and another posted a Facebook message on the museum’s page demanding the signs be taken down… By the end of the day on Friday there were at least five response that left staff feeling vulnerable.

(Note: yes, it’s incorrectly spelled “response” in the Free Press story. No proofreaders need apply.)

Funny, isn’t it, how a single incident of black-on-white violence can shatter the automatic assumption of safety that’s part of White Privilege in America?

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It’s summertime, and racism is bustin’ out all over

Perhaps in honor of our nation’s birthday, there’s quite a bit of sobering news for those who believe that Vermont is above all this racism stuff because, well, we’re Vermont!

Actually, I’d compare us to Scandinavian countries before the first waves of darker-skinned immigrants. They didn’t have racism because there wasn’t any reason for it to spring forth. But you add in some brown people — or even the idea of adding in some brown people — and boy howdy, turns out your attic is full of spiders.

We have, of course, the ongoing disgrace in Rutland, where opponents of setting 100 Syrian refugees might go so far as to eject the best damn mayor their city has ever had. And don’t try to sell me that the anti-refugee contingent are upset over process. That’s an excuse. No, they’re afraid of dark-skinned people wearing heebie-jabbies.

Exhibits B and C are separate reports detailing “stark racial disparities in Vermont policing and incarceration,” per VTDigger; Exhibit D is a series of truly disturbing incidents of racism in, of all places, Craftsbury — the summer home of Bill “Spaceman” Lee and an epicenter of Northeast Kingdom counterculture.

And the cherry on top of this shit sundae: Governor Shumlin urging federal authorities not to harass or “hassle” members of the Rainbow Family Gathering. I wonder if he’d express the same sentiment if it was, say, a Hip-Hop Nation event at Mount Tabor.

Call me cynical, but I doubt it.

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The McAllister “trial” was a disgrace

Mad as Hell, boys and girls.

That’ll do for a start.

Today, the prosecution threw in the towel on the first of two cases against accused rapist Norm McAllister. And absolutely threw their star witness under the bus.

Disgraceful.

There is much more to say, but let’s start there. The accuser did not step forward of her own accord; the authorities encouraged her to do so, and actively solicited her testimony.

She was a reluctant witness from the start. Until the last moment, there were doubts about whether she would show up.

As it turned out, she shouldn’t have. She was subjected to hours of raw, hurtful questioning about every little detail of a series of intimate assaults. And what was her reward?

Less than 24 hours later, the prosecution threw up its hands and said, “Never mind.” Her compliance, her assistance, her exposure in the media, her dutiful effort to testify accuately to events that happened several years ago — all flushed down the toilet.

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