Rita McCaffrey has worked to reintroduce newly released non-violent offenders back into society with a transitional program called Dismas. The Vermont Dismas program was founded by Rita in the Burlington area in 1986 and then expanded to the Rutland area in 1990.
Our incarcerated offenders are among the most disenfranchised groups in America today. All too often correctional inmates live with compounded social disadvantages, including physical and mental disabilities or belonging to a poor economic demographic or oppressed racial minority. Thus Rita McCaffrey’s efforts to serve the community are essential to those with the least opportunity.
In a press release for Green Mountain College Rita stated, “In the US we incarcerate more people than any country in the free world–I believe this is truly shameful.” She also pointed out that “Vermont spends more money on incarceration than it does on higher education.” (Coburn, 2010) These are sobering statements that convey the point: In America we choose to spend money on punishment rather than on education for the purpose of prevention. Thanks to Rita Vermont is changing its perspective.
Named after the “good thief” crucified next to Jesus, Dismas House is a home where offenders live with each other and interact with members of the local community on a daily basis. Rita first had the idea for Dismas house when she attended a seminar by Reverend Jack hickey who had established a Dismas program at Vanderbilt University. (Daley, 2010, June 9) This program creates a deeper sense of trust between the community and the newly released individual while establishing a sense of belonging for that individual in the community. Rita’s efforts to create this community bond has resulted in reducing the recidivism rate to just fifteen percent. This is astounding considering the normal recidivism rate is around seventy to eighty percent and even higher for those with psychological disabilities. (Zind, 2005) (Elliott, 2006)
This benefit for a segment of our community that is often forgotten about or ignored is a vital act that strengthens the moral fiber of both the individual and the community as a whole. In the following Vermont Public Radio interview Rita said, “Dismas House is a safe place for the person coming out [of prison] because we have a commitment to one another, and they don’t break the law when they’re living at Dismas House. They don’t hurt anyone.” (Zind, 2005)
An interesting fact about Rita and how she came to be educated in the aspects of prisoner psychology is that her husband is a former Judge for Rutland County. Judge Joseph McCaffrey spent decades making decisions concerning the rights of the individual weighed against the rights of the community. Essentially he handed out the sentences to individuals, and when the individual’s time had been served, Rita started the next phase of rehabilitation. Yvonne Daley (2010) of the Rutland Herald summed it up as “[h]e sentences them, she rehabilitates them” (although he, too, has been keenly involved in Dismas and prisoner education).
Rita McCaffrey has given selflessly to the Vermont community and Vermont’s disenfranchised prisoner population. Being the founder of three Dismas house locations and several satellite programs, her leadership extends to multiple Vermont communities. Rita has shown us that all Vermonters can grow and change when given the chance.
Coburn, K. (2010, September 2). Dismas of Vermont founder speaks at GMC convocation . Retrieved from Green Mountain College: http://www.greenmtn.edu/news_events/new_releases/rita-mccaffrey.aspx
Daley, Y. (2010, June 9). About Rita building trust . Retrieved from Rutland Herald: http://www.rutlandherald.com/article/20100609/OPINION03/6090316/1039/OPINION03
Elliott, E. (2006, June 30). The Vermont Association of Mental Health’s JEHT Fir. Retrieved from Vermont Human Services: http://humanservices.vermont.gov/departments/ahs-fs-folder/benefits-enrollment/6-30-06%20Vermont%20Association%20of%20Mental%20Health2019s%20JEHT%20First%20Year%20Grant%20Report.pdf/view
PentaVisionVideo. (2010, June 16). Dismas House . [Video podcast]. Retrieved from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCA4vNgr6Ow
Zind, S. (2005, August 15). Interview: Rita McCaffrey, Dismas House. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from NPR: http://www.vpr.net/news_detail/73565/interview-rita-mccaffrey-dismas-house/
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APA cite this article in text as: (Labrecque, 2014)
APA cite this article in References as: Labrecque, K. M. (2014). Vermont Dismas and Rita McCaffrey. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from http://wp.me/p4elXk-1O
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Kerri Max Labrecque: I’m 42 years old and I am a college student at the Community College of Vermont for liberal studies and plan on continuing in the fascinating field of psychology. I’m interested in and have studied Chemistry, Botany, Photography, Color Theory, and the Psychology of Consciousness, to name a few. As an artist, amateur scientist, armchair philosopher and over-all “Jack of all trades,” I have come to appreciate the inner-connective patterns and systems that span across all disciplines. Although born in Massachusetts I have lived in Vermont from the age of two weeks and consider myself a Vermonter and admirer of its rugged beauty.
View Kerry’s other article about seasonal affective disorder in Vermont.