Criminal Justice Reform in Vermont


Between 1997 and 2008, Vermont’s prison population increased by 92%. In 2014, over 240 inmates have remained in prison past their expected release date, despite an overcrowding issue. The issue with overcrowding in prison facilities forces Vermont to pay other states to house its inmates -- those funds are coming from its taxpayers.


Vermont passed a series of reforms to alleviate the transition process from prison to society, removing some of the technical barriers that often lead ex-prisoners to end up back in jail. In 2016, it passed legislation that provides an easier method for acquiring a drivers’ license following a suspension, given the license was suspended because of unpaid fines.

Vermont has also passed a series of bills to reform the juvenile justice system, including a 2016 bill that allows someone over the age of 18 charged with a crime, under certain circumstances, to be tried as a juvenile rather than an adult. Additionally, legislation was passed to allow individuals between the ages of 18-21 to have their criminal record expunged under certain criteria. And, in 2019, lawmakers passed a bill that further expands access to expungement.


The inability to pay a fine following a release from prison is inevitable. While in a facility, inmates are not employed; therefore, they do not have the financial capabilities to pay off fines and fees generated prior to incarceration. When their license is suspended because of that failure, offenders are less likely to find work due to a lack of transportation. Offenders are then more likely to revert back to a life of crime. Thus, making a license more easily accessible will reduce the likelihood of recidivism.

The 2016 juvenile justice legislation allows certain minor crimes to be charged in juvenile court. This extends for offenders up to the age of 21 in certain nonviolent crimes. In doing so, the punishment more fairly suits the crime and reduces the taxpayer responsibility by allowing for smaller prison populations.

Expungement legislation promotes a safer society and reduces unemployment to enfranchise individuals to reset their lives following incarceration. Following a prison sentence, it can be extremely discouraging to struggle in a search for work solely because of a criminal record. This increases the risk of recidivism because many will eventually give up in their search and return to a life of crime. The ability to have a record expunged promotes a better future for these ex-offenders, and consequently, a safer society.

Vermont’s overall incarceration rates have begun to decline following bail reform and other effective justice reforms. However, much work is left to be done in Vermont’s parole system, which has received a D+ rating from Prison Policy.

Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.