BURLINGTON -- The newest member of the Vermont Supreme Court says the state’s criminal courts have been sending people to prison for too long and that prosecutors and judges should focus on treatment and reconciliation.
Justice Geoffrey Crawford made the comments in a packed Burlington courtroom Wednesday, moments after being sworn in to the Supreme Court by Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Crawford has served as a Vermont judge for more than a decade in civil and criminal courts -- a system that he called "the great, unruly machine of the law." He said he had been part of the problem.
"Over the last 10 or 15 years, we have over-sentenced our fellow citizens. It’s like gaining weight, each individual sentencing does not add much to the total, but the trend adds up fast," he said.
He called on the state’s prosecutors and the judiciary to rethink those sentencing practices.
"We need to talk seriously about changing focus and direction," he said, nothing efforts that have been made in Chittenden County. "These initiatives need to be expanded to scale across the state."
Before giving Crawford the oath as a justice, Shumlin said a governor’s appointments to the Supreme Court are among the most important they will make.
"When we make appointments to the Supreme Court, we know that they will last much longer than we will, that the decision will have ramifications way beyond the years that we will serve," Shumlin said.
The governor said that while interviewing Crawford for the job, he was struck by his intellect and understanding of the law, but his decision was based on more than that.
"What really struck me, what really I look away was his extraordinary compassion and his understanding of the challenges that we’re facing as humanity," Shumlin said. "His imagination, his sense of fairness about facing the challenges that we’re facing."
Crawford is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School.
The position of associate justice pays about $124,000 a year.