Between 1996 and 2006, Vermont's incarceration rate increased 80 percent, nearly doubling the state's prison population. In 2007, analyses projected that steep prison population growth would continue into the next decade, increasing 23 percent by 2018. Faced with the prospect of contracting for additional capacity in out-of-state facilities or constructing and operating new prisons at the cost of between $82 million and $206 million, policymakers had to decide if investing more taxpayer dollars in prison capacity was the best way to lower the state's high recidivism rate and increase public safety.
With bipartisan leadership from the governor and legislative leaders, and with the support of the chief justice, policymakers in Vermont decided to employ a justice reinvestment strategy, using rigorous data analyses to determine how increase public safety and save taxpayer dollars. The state enacted a major legislative package in 2008 which significantly stemmed growth of the system and focused corrections programs on evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism. The bills closed the state's most expensive prison, institutionalized screening and assessment processes to identify people appropriate for substance abuse treatment and diversion programs, and prohibited the courts from establishing conditions of probation that are not related to rehabilitation or risk reduction.
In the five years since the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2008, the prison population has declined by 10 percent and the state's recidivism rate has fallen from 45 percent to 41 percent. The state has saved $18 million in prison costs, while the violent crime has fallen by 5 percent during that same period.