BENNINGTON >> The criminal justice system, crime rates, and alternatives to jail and prison time will be the subject of a panel discussion on Wednesday.
"Re-Imagining Justice" will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse at 108 School St. in Bennington. The event is sponsored by the church and Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform.
It's an opportunity for community members to come together and look at issues around criminal justice, including mass incarceration, according to Anna Stevens with the Burlington-based nonprofit. The number of people in United States' jails and prisons has become a significant national issue, she said, and communities need to be a part of that discussion.
"There is more and more evidence that it isn't increasing public safety, and we're investing in a multi-million dollar system that doesn't work," Stevens said. Changes to that system, she said, will happen when people ask for it.
The four panelists will be: Meg McCarthy of Marlboro, whose husband is currently incarcerated; Bradley Myerson, a Manchester attorney; State Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington District 2-2; and Michael Washington, an advocate with direct experience of incarceration.
VCJR is a nonprofit educational and advocacy organization. It's vision is a "coordinated criminal justice system that values the humanity in all people, aims to restore relationships and communities, and uses incarceration as a last resort for public safety," according to its website.
Between 1973 to 2009, the U.S. prison population grew from about 200,000 to approximately 2.2 million, according to a 2014 report published by the National Research Council. The report, completed by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, stated the U.S. now holds close to a quarter of the world's prisoners, even though it accounts for 5 percent of the global population. That report found people in minority groups, and people with a low education level and substance abuse disorders, were more likely to be locked up.
Stevens said she will moderate the discussion and will start by providing basic information about incarceration rates.
Video clips will be shown from the VCJR's "Stories Project," which documents Vermonters' experiences with the criminal justice system.
"These are our neighbours," Stevens said.
A question and answer session between attendees and panelists will round out the evening.
"I can talk about the need to reform the system in a grand scheme, but it's really a community discussion," she said. "What do we ask, and how do we ask for it?"
For more information, visit https://www.vermontersforcriminaljusticereform.org or call Anna Stevens at 802-503-0601.
— Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.