Black people in Vermont were 14 times more likely to be defendants in felony drug cases than their white counterparts, according to a Council of State Governments Justice Center report outlined by VT Digger. Black defendants in the state are also more likely to be jailed for drugs despite national data showing that Black people and white people use and sell drugs at similar rates.
The report found that Black people in Vermont are more than six times more likely to be incarcerated than white people for all crimes, which is higher than the national average. Black people were also 3.5 times more likely to be defendants for misdemeanor cases and 5.9 times more likely to be defendants in felony cases, the report says. Post-conviction, Black people in the state are 18% more likely to be incarcerated for felony drug and property offenses; meaning they are less likely to receive non-prison options such as probation or split or suspended sentences, the report found.
Karen Tronsgard-Scott, executive director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and a member of the working group, told VT Digger that the data shows “irrefutable” evidence for what “Black Vermonters have been saying for a really long time.”
The report notes that while state lawmakers are currently considering a classification structure for drug offenses, the analysis could be used to apply a racial equity lens to the classification process for drug offenses by “reclassifying lower-to-mid level felony drug possession offenses to misdemeanors” and “reevaluating the threshold of the highest level of possession and sales to better reflect significant amounts of drugs intended for distribution.”
The group plans to deliver a report to the Legislature on the findings in January.