By Sarah F. George
When I was in law school, I was exposed to the injustices within our criminal justice system. I was appalled at the systemic racism and implicit bias that plagued our system from start to finish. From our policing, charging decisions, bail requests, resolutions, and incarceration decisions, to our treatment of addiction and mental health as a criminal problem rather than a public health issue. The more drugs or alcohol you consumed, the longer probation or jail sentence you received. The “just say no” and “tough love” mentality, as well as the flawed understanding of “justice” and “public safety” that dominated our legal system infuriated me. It infuriated me so much that I decided to become a public defender. I was convinced that I would become a defense attorney and I would change the system.
Well, reality set in for me very quickly when I learned that the person in our criminal justice system with the most power to make a significant difference is not the defense attorneys or the judges–it is the prosecutors. They are part of the problem, but they can also be part of the solution. The day I realized that is the same day I decided to become one.
Since becoming a prosecutor, I have tried incredibly hard to educate those around me about implicit bias in policing and prosecution, why addiction is a disease, the need to change our approach to those struggling in our community, and how those changes will increase public safety.
Since being appointed as the interim State’s Attorney for Chittenden County in January 2017, I have worked hard to do my part in these battles. I am working to de-stigmatize addiction, declining to prosecute people for possessing medically assisted treatment (MAT), flooding our community with low barrier access to MAT, having tough and controversial conversations about harm reduction, putting court resources into treatment and sober living rather than incarceration, diverting low level cases out of the system and more cases to juvenile court, expanding restorative justice and our treatment courts, and making our expungement process incredibly accessible and easy for those who paid their debt and are only being held back by having the conviction on their record.
Every one of these small acts will make a big difference over time and we must demand them from every prosecutor in Vermont, especially those who are elected. We must demand it from our prosecutors, our police departments, our judges, and our local legislators. They are making decisions every day that impact us, or someone that we know, and they need to truly understand the issues that each person in the system faces.
I recognized the important role prosecutors play in the shaping the outcome of people’s lives. So before running for office, I signed up for candidate training with Emerge Vermont, which taught me the skills necessary to run and win, so I could begin improving my community. We can help citizens through their current situations in a way that allows for true justice to those harmed, as well as the individual who caused that harm. Only when that happens can we foster true public safety. That is what I am doing, and that is why I am running.
Facebook: Sarah Fair George
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