Criminal Justice Reform

We as Vermonters have a choice to make: will we enjoy a justice system that keeps us safe by addressing people’s needs, or will we live with a system that keeps asking prisons to fix poverty, substance use, and public health? I choose safety. I think Vermonters agree.

I’ve worked for years, both in Vermont courtrooms and in Montpelier, for a system that recognizes and addresses the underlying needs of individuals who get involved in the justice system—poverty, substance use disorder, and mental health challenges.

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Here in Vermont, 85% of people who pass through the criminal justice system are appointed a public defender. That means they're living in poverty. As a former public defender myself, I know that we have a system that polices and prosecutes the poor. I'm running for State Senate because we have to do a better job of addressing the underlying reasons of why people get involved in the system in the first place, including, poverty, mental health, and substance use disorder. As a Senator, I'll continue the work I've been doing as an Assistant Attorney General, to make our system more restorative and more responsive to public health needs. When we do that, we keep all Vermonters safe. David Scherr for State Senate 2020

I currently serve as an Assistant Attorney General in the Vermont Attorney General’s Office. I am honored to work with the Attorney General to build a justice system that keeps us all safer by addressing these underlying needs.

Vermont is not immune from systemic racism in its criminal justice system. We have one of the highest rates of incarceration for black people in the nation. In Vermont, black and brown drivers are pulled over at higher rates than white drivers, and police are more likely to search their cars. We have much more work to do, including the passage and enforcement of laws that would address police use of force. We need to extend the scrutiny of our justice system to the actions of prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys who make decisions that result in disparate rates of incarceration. We need to shrink the footprint of traditional law enforcement and expand community supports–including mental health and substance use disorder professionals–to respond to community needs. And we need to change our sentencing laws to lower disparities, as well as increase the use of restorative justice practices.

I’ve also seen the system up close. In my time as a contract public defender, I represented Vermonters who needed help in Chittenden County—and in every criminal courthouse in every county in the state. During my service with the Attorney General’s Office we have worked with partners around Vermont to more than double participation in our Diversion programs statewide, keeping thousands of people out of the standard criminal system and allowing them to repair harm to their communities and get the help they need without enduring the burden of a criminal record.

We have tripled participation in Pretrial Services, a program that connects people involved in the criminal system with the mental health and substance use disorder treatment they need.

I have worked with the legislature and state officials to significantly expand access to criminal record expungements—allowing people who have paid their debt and remained trouble-free to wipe clean their records and obtain good jobs that can bring stability and dignity.

We have reformed our bail laws—nobody should be jailed simply for lack of funds.

While I’m proud of these accomplishments, we have more to do. We still have too many people stuck with criminal records who pose no danger to society and who should be able to expunge their offenses—and gain access to better jobs. We need to fully and faithfully implement our “raise the age” laws, allowing young people who make a mistake to avoid the lifelong burden of a criminal record while gaining access to services. We need to reduce the numbers of people who are reincarcerated after being released from Vermont’s prisons—Vermont has one of the highest rates of reincarceration in the nation.