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Monday, May 2, 2016

Sens. Patrick Leahy, Cory Booker Talk Criminal Justice Reforms

Posted By on Mon, May 2, 2016 at 6:13 PM

click to enlarge Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) talks with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) looks on. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) talks with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) looks on.
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) touted their efforts to reduce incarceration and reform the criminal justice system during a forum at Burlington City Hall on Monday.

The senators led a panel featuring Gov. Peter Shumlin, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, U.S. Attorney Eric Miller, Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and others. 

Booker, a former mayor of Newark and a darling of the left, introduced a bill last year that would reexamine federal sentencing laws and reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. Leahy cosponsored the bill.

“If you really look at the data of who we imprison, we are painfully moving away from our values,” Booker said. “We are a nation that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than poor and innocent. Our prison population is overwhelmingly poor ... It is overwhelmingly addicted … It is overwhelmingly mentally ill, and [it includes] victims of trauma and sexual abuse. And it is disproportionately minority.”

Donovan, who is running unopposed to become Vermont’s attorney general, said prosecutors need to be more courageous in not filing criminal charges against everyone police arrest.

“That is the key to the system — the courage to say no and not to charge,” Donovan said. “We have marginalized an entire segment of our population in the name of public safety. We have to have a little more compassion, a little more empathy, and a little more understanding.”

Vermont’s prison population has dropped in the last year, to around 1,700 inmates. But it still stands 70 percent higher than it was in 1990, even though the violent crime rate has fallen around 30 percent in the same time frame, according to the Department of Corrections and federal statistics. Tougher sentences for drug and other non-violent crimes have fueled the inmate spike. The Department of Corrections doesn’t have enough prison space, and currently sends 230 inmates to a privately run prison in Michigan.

The forum opened with Booker and Leahy showering praise on one another. Booker said he came to Burlington because “a man who I love invited me today,” and later called Leahy a “mountain of a man.” Booker, who has been touted as a potential vice presidential candidate, was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Leahy’s reelection campaign Monday night.

After the forum, Leahy and Booker were scheduled to tour Burlington’s King Street Center, which provides services to children and young families.


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Mark Davis

Mark Davis

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Mark Davis is a Seven Days staff writer.

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