Monday, February 27, 2006

Invest in Society, Not Prisons

Invest in Society, Not Prisons
as printed in the Burlington Free Press on Feb. 27, 2006

I went to prison four times. Willingly. It was part of my ongoing research on Vermont’s prisons and jails, an area that I focus on in the Vermont House of Representatives.

The way I see it, the best way to learn about the correctional system is to listen to people who spend their days in the field. So I interviewed 53 correctional officers, parole officers, inmates, victims' advocates, and managers in the Department of Corrections (DOC). And I got an earful. One of the common themes I heard was that correctional officers felt that they were too swamped trying to meet day-to-day needs that the correctional aspect of their work was sidelined.

Those I interviewed agree on what the main problem is: There are too many people in our jails and prisons for our correctional system to handle.

Over the last ten years, while crime rates have dropped, prison rates in Vermont have doubled. Experts widely agree that there is no cause and effect relationship between the two. Instead – according to repeated testimony by inmates, correctional officers, probation officers, community advocates, and DOC staff – prisons and jails have become an alternative to community care. Drug addicts? Send them to jail. Mental health problems? Send them to jail. High school drop-outs? They’ll end up in jail.

So who is in prison? A disproportionate number people with mental health, drug, and alcohol problems, and victims of trauma and abuse. Not receiving the treatment and care they needed when they lived in our Vermont towns, they wound up in prison, an environment that usually worsens their problems.

Their problems have become our problems. In just 15 years, spending on corrections has ballooned from four percent of our state’s budget to ten percent. That leaves fewer dollars for education, mental health, substance abuse prevention, foster care, and other programs that would reduce the number of crimes and associated prison costs.

Fifteen years ago, for every dollar we spent on corrections, we spent two dollars on higher education. Now, for each corrections dollar, higher education gets 80 cents.

What happened to our priorities? Why have we let prisons grow so big? Why have we spent so few dollars on the programs that we know strengthen society? Why aren’t we providing alternatives to the kind of behavior that we know leads to crime?

We need prisons to protect society from violent repeat-offenders. But we know that prison is not a cure-all for society’s ills. We can and must end our costly addiction to incarceration, which leads to prison overcrowding. Instead, we should invest in programs that not only help the most vulnerable in our society, but will also ultimately protect us from crime.

Rep. Jason P. Lorber (D-Burlington) is author of “53 Voices on Corrections in Vermont,” which can be found online at


At February 28, 2006 11:46 AM, Anonymous EminenceJae said...

Jason, I think you are an awesome human being! I want you to be president!

At March 02, 2006 7:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you know I totally support your concept concerning prisons! Your willingness to stand up for the underdogs of society demonstrates awesome courage. We are fortunate to have you as our representative. Thanks so much!
Dave Curtis

At March 21, 2006 11:17 AM, Anonymous Terry and Jason said...

We are so in awe of what you are doing and so proud to know you. Keep up the great work!
Terry and Jason

At May 03, 2006 11:53 AM, Anonymous Robert A Stringer said...

Thank you for caring. I have been involved with the prison system for over one year advocating for the life of my wife Michelle. She has been incarcerated for the last six months on a lack of residence when her own home is filled with positive surroundings and a Christian husband.Making her do dead time is beyond all logic.
She has also been coerced off her mental health medication and has been hospitalized for seizures on two occasions.
The DOC has repeatedly broken the Vermont State statutes, which I have kept hard copy on.
Just when I find out that the DOC is above the law and all hope was fading I read your 53 voices. Even though I cannot do anything for Michelle I was uplifted to know that there are others who can identify.
Thank You... Robert A Stringer...

At October 25, 2006 12:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this investigation, excellent report.

The most important part in my opinion was the first quote in the recommendations of the sentencsing section. The whole quote is so true and So succinct. Whoever said it should really write about this stuff: "You have to decriminalize misdemeanors that aren't violent."

Do you have the "guts" to put forward a bill to decriminalize marijuana? Not legalize just decriminalize. this isn't radical. at all. its been done in Cali, in Denver, other places.

Vermonters smoke more pot than in any place but Alaska; unlike Alaska however we have extremely draconian laws. This disconnect between the law and the community is unacceptable.

Got balls Jason?

here's some info to help you

Smoking Pot:

Smoking Pot & Driving:

What you're up against:

At October 31, 2006 8:20 PM, Blogger Jason P. Lorber said...

Thank you Anonymous.

Yes, I have made public my support of decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.

To view my position on this issue, as well as others, visit



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