“Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy,” is the mission of the League of Women Vot- ers, and for the past five years the Central Vermont chapter has hosted lectures designed to encourage civic engagement and pursue that mission. For three years, it has partnered with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier to present talks and dis- cussions on a theme. Two years ago, the theme was “The First Amendment,” and last year, “Constitutional Crisis?”, which addressed election security, partisan redistricting, liberalism/conservatism, and single-issue politics.
This year, “Criminal Justice in Vermont,” is the focus, and Kate Rader, who has been a member of the League since 1978, says there was no shortage of topics for the five-lecture series, which kicked off with a panel on incar- cerated women on October 9 in Montpelier.
That discussion was moderated by Cary Brown, ex- ecutive director of the Vermont Commission on Women. Panelists included Vermont Rep. Marybeth Redmond (D- Essex Junction), co-founder of “writing inside VT”; Kassie Tibbott, coordinator of the Community Legal Informa- tion Center; and Ashley Messier, Smart Justice organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.
People filled the room, along with cameras from ORCA Media and Channel 22 news, as the panel spoke about the numbers of incarcerated people trending upward, recidivism due to technical violations, and the lack of tran- sitional housing.
Many people, including Rep. Redmond, commented on how impossible it is “to return to your community and be successful. The system is set up for failure.” Messier pointed out that 80 percent of incarcerated women havenon-violent offenses, and about the same percentage were the single caregivers for their children.
To close the evening, Dani Benoit read original poems from Life Lines: Re-Writing Lives From Inside Out (Green Writers Press, 2019), a book of writings from Vermont’s incarcerated women that give voice to trauma, addiction, assault, and abuse.
The series will continue through March with the top- ics prison health care, implicit bias, racial bias in criminal justice, and transitioning back to the community after in- carceration. All lectures are held in the Hayes Room of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier at 7 pm.
The November 13 lecture will be a panel discussion on prison health care moderated by Susan Clark, town moderator for Middlesex and author of All Those In Favor and Slow Democracy. Panelists will include Ed Paquin of Barre Town, who served six terms in the Vermont Legis- lature and 17 years as the executive director of Disability Rights Vermont. He will be joined by Emily Tredeau from the Vermont Defender General’s office and Dr. Delores Burroughs-Biron, physician and former health director for Vermont’s Department of Corrections. They will ad- dress access to health care, opiate treatment, disability, and aging, among other topics.
On January 22, 2020, Bor Yang, executive director and legal counsel for the Vermont Human Rights Commis- sion, will give a special two-hour workshop on implicit bias. The training and discussion will explore how we un- consciously attribute certain qualities to members of a par- ticular race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. The discussion will cover how these associations are formed, the impact they have on behavior, and how we unconsciously evaluate others despite our best intentions. This program begins at 6:30 pm.
February 12 will see a lecture looking more closely at ra- cial bias in the criminal justice system in Vermont, taking a deep dive into the disparities. The talk will feature UVM professor in economics Stephanie Sequino and director of the Vermont State Police’s fair and impartial policing pro- gram Captain Garry Scott.
The series closes on March 11 with a discussion of tran- sitioning back to the community after incarceration. Chris Barton, restorative systems administrator for the Depart- ment of Corrections and Robert Sands from Vermont Law School will look at the challenges facing Vermonters when they are released from corrections and the community sup- port available to them.
Michelle A.L. Singer is the adult programs coordinator for Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier.