Justice For All Introduces Bills Proposing Racial Justice Oversight Board

March 7, 2017
PRESS RELEASE:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact: Mark Hughes
Organization: Justice For All
Number: (401) 480-8222
Email: mark@justiceforallvt.org
Website: Justiceforallvt.org

Justice For All Announces Introduction of Racial Oversight Committee Bills

Montpelier, March 7, 2017 – Today Justice For All announced the introduction of two bills aimed at creating a racial justice oversight committee. H.492, sponsored by Rep. Ruqaiyah Morris (D-Bennington), Rep. Kevin Christie (D-White River Junction), and Rep. Diana Gonzalez (D-Winooski) was introduced on February 24, and referred to the House Committee on Judiciary. On Friday, a bill that mirrors H.492 was introduced to the Senate and referred to Senate Committee on Judiciary. S.116 is sponsored by Sen. Anthony Pollina, (P/D-Washington) Sen. Francis Brooks (D-Washington) Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden) and Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham).

The bills propose to establish a twelve member board under the office of the Attorney General to address institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system.
“In light of the challenges that we face in Vermont with racial disparities in the criminal justice system, we must make a commitment to do the right thing,” said Justice For All’s co-founder Mark Hughes.

The bills state that “The Board shall conduct management and oversight of the implementation of racial justice reform across the State, including within the criminal justice system, by managing and overseeing the collection of race- based data, ensuring such data are publicly available, and developing policies and trainings to address systemic implicit bias.”

Justice For All will hold a press briefing next week to answer questions regarding both bills. Details to follow.

About Justice For All

Justice For All is a Vermont-based, racial justice non-profit organization that identifies and dismantles institutionalized racism and facilitates healing and empowerment in Vermont communities. They ensure justice for all through community organizing, research, education, community policing, legislative reform and judicial monitoring. To this end they address systemic issues such as racially biased policing and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
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Support H. 492 and S.116 on Town Meeting Day

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We wanted to make sure you were equipped to support any efforts you might be planning to propose a resolution for your town to support H492 and S.116 (Racial Justice Oversight Board). The bill proposes a twelve member board under the office of the Attorney General to address institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system. In light of the challenges that we all know that we face in in Vermont with racial disparities in the criminal justice system, we must make a commitment to do the right thing. The language to the resolution is simple.

The adoption of a resolution that supports passing of H.492 and S.116, the bill that proposes to establish the Racial Justice Oversight Board to manage and oversee the implementation of racial justice reform across the State.

FAQs on the bill can be found here.

Go here to read the bill and learn how you can offer your support

Here are some additional things that you can do now to assist in moving this unprecedented legislation forward:

1. Sign the petitions that call for the adoption of these bills.  Your signature alerts all members of the legislature:

Petition for H.492
Petition for S.116

2. Call the Sergeant at Arms and leave a message for your legislative delegation and/or the House Judiciary expressing your support for H492 and S.116:   802-828-2228
You can also send an email: jmiller@leg.state.vt.us

3) Send a message to the Judiciary Committee of each chamber expressing your support.

House Judiciary (H.492) – vermont-house-judiciary@googlegroups.com
Senate Judiciary (S.116) – vermont-senate-judiciary@googlegroups.com

4) Mail a postcard to your legislator. Find them here: http://legislature.vermont.gov/people

Finally, Justice For All gathers on the third Thursday of every month, at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier from 6:00 till 8:00 PM. Our next meeting is March 16th.

As you consider where you are investing in social justice issues, remember the racial referendum that we just experienced in our national election. Consider donating to Justice For All, an organically grown, Vermont-based racial justice organization that has been here doing the work over the past couple of years.

Please help us with your membership, provide organizational support or simply provide a contribution. Help us continue this work in Vermont.

Over this past year we worked in a coalition to successfully deliver the Vermont Fair and Impartial Policing Policy for all law enforcement agencies in the state. Our work continues with numerous community outreach activities, Vermont Justice Coalition, Coalition on Racial Justice Reform, the Law Enforcement Professional Regulation Committee and much more but we need your help to continue.

#DecisionPoints is a open source data collection initiative that is underway. This open platform will provide the community access to our data and enable transparency and accountability. Help us with this effort.

Thanks for the outpouring of support.

Mark A. Hughes, Executive Director,
Justice For All Cooperative, Inc

About Justice For All
Justice for All is a racial justice organization, which identifies and dismantles institutionalized racism while facilitating healing in our communities. Our mission is to ensure justice for ALL through community organizing, research, education, community policing, legislative reform, and judicial monitoring. We address systemic issues such as racially biased policing and inequities in the criminal justice system.

Racial Justice Reform Oversight Board H.492 and S.116 FAQs

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JFA’s ED,  Mark Hughes with Isaac Grimm of RAD

Here are some of the frequently asked questions that we are getting surrounding the bill.  Feel free to submit your questions to on our Facebook page at facebook.com/justiceforallvt.org.

Q.  Where is the Board being proposed to be placed in Government structure?
A.  The Board will be placed under the office of the Attorney General.

Q. Why is it important that such Board exist? Don’t we already have the Human Rights Commission and the Civil Rights Commission to address racism?
A. The Board is designed to address institutionalized racism, largely as a result of implicit bias. These existing organizations have historically addressed explicit bias.

Q. Why is it that this is so important now?
A. Vermont has had longstanding issue with disparities in the criminal justice system.   Efforts are ongoing ranging from race traffic stop data collection to Fair and Impartial Policing Policy and Training.

Q. If efforts are underway, why do we need this Board?
A. The implementation of efforts underway have no centralized independent oversight and to date have only sought to address law enforcement. This Board will provide that oversight, introduce policy and training to address use of force and expand to address all components of the Criminal Justice System.

Q. It’s not clear that there racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Is there really a problem here?
A. Yes! The race traffic stop data and the use of force data currently being collected across the state make it clear that we have some serious issues. Vermont is a state with 1.6% African Americans but African Americans make up over 10% of our prison system. Last year The Sentencing Project reported that Vermont leads the nation with one in 14 African American Males incarcerated.

Q. What would the Board do?
A. The bill outlines the Boards responsibilities to be “Oversight of the implementation of racial justice reform across the State, including within the criminal justice system, by managing and overseeing the collection of race based data, ensuring such data are publicly available, and developing policy and trainings to address systemic implicit bias

Q. How would the Board address the remainder of the criminal justice system?
A. The bill outlines additional authority of the Board to “provide recommendations to the Criminal Justice Training Council and the Vermont Bar Association on a model training and policy for law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and correctional officers to recognize and address implicit bias, and conduct oversight of the statewide adoption and implementation of such policies and trainings”

Q. Is there a feedback loop designed into this process to enable the legislature to get updates?
A. Yes. Board is required to report on an annual basis. The bill tasks the Board with providing updates including recommendations on methods of statewide oversight including civilian oversight of law enforcement; processes and methodologies for Independent prosecutors; Justice System complaint process and expanding to addressing institutionalized racism in education, employment, health services and housing.

Q. What impact does the bill have on the Fair and Impartial policing Policy?
A. It calls for all agencies to adopt the entire Fair and Impartial Policy and establishes that the stakeholders review the policy annually.

Q. Where can I find out more about the H. 492 in moving forward?
A. Vermont Judiciary has updates here: http://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2018/H.492
Justice For All will post updates here: https://racialjusticereformomnibusbillvt.wordpress.com/

Racial Justice Reform Kickoff Celebration

The First of Many Celebrations 

On February 2nd, 2017 Justice for All hosted the Racial Justice Reform Coalition Kick-off party at Sweet Melissa’s in Montpelier, VT. Held on the eve of the release of the first draft of this ground-breaking piece of legislation, this party was a celebration of the forward momentum of the fight for racial justice in Vermont. In attendance were key drafters of the original bill proposal, sponsoring legislator Kevin “Coach” Christie and supporting members of the legislature, representatives from coalition member organizations, and an exuberant showing of community members eager to show their support for racial justice.

Justice for All Executive Director and co-founder Mark Hughes spoke on his excitement and passion for this piece of legislation and other racial justice efforts, Coach Christie said a few words on the importance of  racial justice reform in Vermont, and additional speakers shared their thoughts on what racial justice means to them. This event also marked the launching of the “I Support Racial Justice Reform in Vermont” photo petition campaign. The first of many events, this kick-off merely marked the beginning of a series of celebrations as this legislation and this movement gain momentum and reach critical milestones in the powerful and indomitable march toward racial justice reform in Vermont and across the nation.

Here are some of the photos taken for our #racialjusticereformvt photo petition. There will be many more to come.

Racial Disparities in Vermont Prisons

This is not a social, political or economic issue. It is a moral issue.

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6/28/2016

By Mark Hughes and Ashley Nellis, Ph. D.

A new report on racial disparities in state prisons underscores the need for policymakers and state administrators in Montpelier to take a hard look at the policies, practices and prejudices that are playing out in our state’s criminal justice system.

By disaggregating and analyzing U.S. Justice Department data the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization The Sentencing Project found that nationally, African Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites across the nation. In Vermont the ratio is even higher at 10 times the rate of whites across the nation. In fact, Vermont is the highest in the nation with one in 14 of all African American adult males in state prison.

The findings come in a period when many states, including Vermont, have responded to assertions of unfairness in the justice system in the aftermath of the highly reported Trayvon Martin shooting four years ago in Florida and the shooting and racial protests in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere more recently.

Policymakers and administrators in Vermont are aware of the disparities. Several states have legislated sentencing reforms or re-categorized drug cases in particular, which account for many of the convictions that lead to racial and ethnic disparities, so that possession and use of drugs is more likely today to lead to treatment rather than extended imprisonment. State officials know that in the aggregate African Americans are not disproportionately likely to commit certain drug crimes, but they nevertheless are more likely to wind up in prison where whites convicted of similar offenses may get alternative outcomes.

One of many practices that contribute to racial disparities in the criminal justice system in Vermont is the disproportionate number of traffic stops and searches of African Americans by law enforcement. The Vermont Advisory Committee to United States Commission on Civil Rights provided a briefing on the challenges of Racial Profiling in 2009. Some of the recommendations have yet to be undertaken. Traffic stop data analysis in 2012 concluded that African Americans were being stopped and searched at disproportionate rates by Vermont State (VSP), Burlington, South Burlington, UVM and Winooski Police Departments. In spite of a legislative mandate to collect race-based traffic stop data issued in 2012, this data is only beginning to become publicly accessible in 2016. VSP’s initial decision (in 2012) to release their data to third parties for analysis created discussion surrounding research veracity and efficacy and did little to provide true transparency or adopt the research as a benchmark from which to move forward. This year (with VSP’s long awaited release of five years of data), VSP released the data to Northeastern University and UVM as well as posted the raw data on their site. Based upon research produced by Dr. Jack McDevitt of Northeastern University, traffic stop racial disparities have increased in Vermont over the past five years. This is clearly as a result of the lack of transparency and a culture of denial. Dr. Stephanie Seguino’s (UVM) report on this data set is due to be released this week. In moving forward it is important that we move past using the collection of data to prove (or disprove) racial disparity, to that of using it to measure our progress towards parity. The consistent public release of the data will provide the transparency required for accountability in this area.  Internal commitment to progress, analysis of this data, policy implementation, training, and corrective actions (as required) will also be necessary to move these efforts forward. It is also important that we understand that this is a very small part of a much larger challenge.

In general, the national report suggests that while overt racism may not continually come into play in the criminal justice system, there are points of discretion in the system where arresting officers, prosecutors, judges and even defense attorneys may be predisposed to view one group differently from another. Policy makers in Vermont must work to achieve the transparency required to identify these points of discretion in the system and demand similar commitment to metrics, policy, training and corrective actions as required to ensure that Vermont lives up to it’s narrative of openness and fairness.

Concerns about differential treatment is important not only because every American is constitutionally entitled to fair and equal treatment under the law, but because of the collateral consequences that are attached to criminal convictions – reduced access to housing, education and employment opportunity chief among them.

There is a growing recognition across the country that mass incarceration practices have not contributed to public safety, but have instead created a system that is inefficient, unsustainable, and unfair mass incarceration has perpetuates disadvantages that African Americans and other people of color have endured historically. Solving foundational problems through improved access to education, decent housing, prevention services focused on at-risk youth, and job training and placement is continually challenging but important.

But equally crucial, and probably more immediately manageable, is the identification and remediation of the policies and behaviors that lead to over-incarceration and racial disparities in prison in Vermont and elsewhere. State officials must fashion reforms that make the justice system smarter, fairer and less costly both in dollars and in the loss of human potential. We owe it to ourselves in this political, social and racial climate of change in 2016.

Mark Hughes is an advocate for racial justice affiliated with Justice For All in Vermont. Ashley Nellis, Ph. D., is a senior researcher for The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., and author of The Color of Justice: racial and ethnic disparity in state prisons, available at http://www.sentencingproject.org