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Call to Action: Racial Disparities Panel Urges Lawmakers to Act on Panel’s Recommendations

September 1, 2020

Today, Dr. Etan Nasreddin-Longo, chair of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel, along with Panel members, Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis, and Attorney General T.J. Donovan urged the Legislature to take further action to address racial disparities and systemic bias in Vermont. The coalition specifically called on the Legislature to reconsider policy recommendations outlined by the Panel in their December 2019 report. These recommendations include centralizing a bias incident complaint process, significantly expanding data collection efforts, and implementing reforms to reduce racial profiling.

“This work is general, and it points towards broad areas of policy change that are needed by many different minoritized communities in the State,” said Dr. Nasreddin-Longo. “We will continue to stand by our work until these areas have been addressed by the Legislature in some fashion that speaks to a sustained, dedicated, and substantive effort to reduce, and – to the greatest extent possible – eliminate bias in the criminal and juvenile justice systems.”

The Panel’s recommendations have already informed Vermont law. The Justice Reinvestment Act of 2020 (Act 148) followed some recommendations of the Panel’s 2019 report. Namely, Act 148 has provided a path for implementation of data collection reform. It also requests recommendations from stakeholders to support more robust and consistent reporting. The coalition recognized the work done so far but urged further legislative action on the Panel’s recommendations.

The Panel’s report, presented to the Legislative Joint Justice Oversight Committee in December 2019, provides recommendations to address systemic implicit bias in Vermont’s criminal and juvenile justice system. These recommendations include creating a public complaint process to address perceived implicit bias across all systems of State government, proposals to decrease the frequency of racial profiling, and expanding law enforcement race data collection practices.

The report also discusses root causes of racial disparities and summarizes the Panel’s extensive policy considerations.

The Panel’s membership is made up of representatives of communities of color from around Vermont, as well as State officials working in the administration of Vermont’s criminal and juvenile justice systems, including Dr. Etan Nasreddin-Longo, Chair of the Panel, Jessica Brown, Chittenden County Public Defender’s Office, Geoffrey Jones, Former Vermont State Police Trooper, Shela Linton, Co-founder and Program Director of the Root Social Justice Center, Chief Don Stevens, Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk – Abenaki Nation, Jennifer Firpo, Criminal Justice Training Council, Judge Brian Grearson, Chief Superior Judge, James Pepper, Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, David Scherr, Attorney General’s Office, Captain Julie Scribner, Vermont State Police, Captain Garry Scott, Vermont State Police, Rebecca Turner, Office of the Defender General, Geoffrey Pippenger, Department of Children and Families, and Monica Weeber, Department of Corrections. The Panel was created by the Legislature and is organized under the Attorney General’s Office.

A copy of the Panel’s 2019 report can be found here.