Vermont's Prison Population Projected to Grow 23 Percent over the Next Ten Years

Vermont's Prison Population Projected to Grow 23 Percent over the Next Ten Years

After nearly doubling in size over the past decade, the Vermont prison population will increase three times as fast as the general resident population over the next decade, at a cost of between $82 million and $206 million, according to an independent study released by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.  This rate of growth exceeds the increase projected in the prison populations of five other states in the Northeast.

“We need to continue to address the increasing cost of Vermont's corrections system.  My administration, legislators, and the judiciary have worked together and successfully implemented polices intended to focus resources on the most serious offenders and to overcome obstacles to a successful re-entry to communities for those who are eligible for release,” said Governor Jim Douglas.  “I look forward to reviewing the policy options presented by the Council of State Governments Justice Center to further reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and manage corrections spending.”

Highlights of the Justice Center study include the following:

  • From 1996 to 2006, the state's incarceration rate increased 80 percent, compared with 18 percent nationally. The state's violent and property crime rates remained steady or declined during this same time period.
  • Over the next 10 years, the state prison population will increase from 2,229 to 2,740, a 23 percent increase. 
  • The estimated cost to contract with out-of-state facilities to house the growing population over the next ten years is an additional $82 million in state spending, assuming that current costs remain stable going forward.  If the state builds new facilities, policymakers will need an additional $206 million for construction and operating expenses.

The Justice Center's analysis of the Vermont prison population revealed that, like all states with growing prison populations, as the state incarcerates more people, more are inevitably released.  Between 2001 and 2006, the number of people released from Vermont prisons increased 23 percent.  Recidivism rates in Vermont are particularly high and are a significant reason why the prison population is projected to continue growing.  Fifty percent of people released from Vermont prisons in 2003 were reconvicted of a new crime by 2006. 
“Unless we find a way to ensure that people returning to the community from prison have access to drug treatment, employment opportunities and housing, we will miss an opportunity to make Vermont safer,” said Speaker Gaye Symington.  “We must identify and deploy strategies that protect the public by breaking the cycle of recidivism.” 

“There's no question that the current rate of growth in Vermont's prison population is unsustainable,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin. “Furthermore, it's puzzling that Vermont has one of the highest rates of incarceration for nonviolent offenders in the country.  We must find ways to do better."

 Since August, policymakers from the three branches of state government have been working with the Council of State Governments Justice Center to analyze corrections data. Experts and staff with the Justice Center will present an initial set of policy options at a forum among state officials on January 9 in Montpelier. 

Assistance from the Justice Center is made possible through funding support provided by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Center on the States.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven strategies—informed by available evidence—to increase public safety and strengthen communities.