Vermonter of the Month: Kathy Fox

Kathy Fox and T.J. Donovan

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Driven by her belief that “people can change, and that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” Kathy Fox, our October Vermonter of the Month, created Vermont’s first college-in-prison program to provide people who are incarcerated with a second chance at education.

As a University of Vermont (UVM) professor of sociology, conducting research in recidivism, Kathy saw the effectiveness of higher education as a pathway for reintegration for people who were formerly incarcerated. In the spring of 2018, she along with a group of dedicated educators launched UVM’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program (LAPP). LAPP, in partnership with the Department of Corrections, provides introductory college courses to people who are incarcerated at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility and Northwest Regional Correctional Facility. According to LAPP, “The recidivism rate in the state, while better than the national average of 60%, has hovered at about 45% for the last decade. Incarcerated citizens who are released with a high school education have a recidivism rate of 24%. The rate drops to 10% with two years of college, and to about 5% with four years of college.” By providing college courses to people while incarcerated, LAPP, under Kathy’s direction, hopes to reduce the rate of recidivism while also “while improving the odds of returning citizens becoming successful, crime-free, tax-paying members of society.”

A native of Oklahoma, Kathy found her way to Vermont when she accepted a position with UVM in 1994 immediately after completing graduate school. Since then, she has been impacting the lives of her students and people who are incarcerated through her volunteerism, research, and teaching. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Kathy to learn more about the work that she is doing and what drives her passion for social justice.

 How did you become interested in offender reentry/reintegration?

 I would attend criminology conferences and we would all be marveling at the incredible increase in the prison population and speculating about the issues that would be forthcoming when people got released. I had been studying Corrections for a long time and heard about the new reentry programs that Vermont was trying, and they sounded interesting to me. I learned about the unique system Vermont has with its community-based justice centers and was fascinated by the idea of considering reentry and reintegration as a community-level problem to address.

Also, from my research inside prisons, I could see how incarceration creates a lot of deficits for people, such as being able to get a job with a felony record, etc. I felt and still feel that our system isn’t designed for success upon release.

 What inspires your work, both at UVM and in the community?

 I have been aware for a long time about the role that privilege plays in the trajectory of one’s life. I came from a privileged background and know that, but for grace, there go I. I am interested in doing research and activities, like the Liberal Arts in Prison Program, that contribute to the public good, so that drives my decisions about what to devote energy and time to. It stems from a firm belief that people can change, and that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, respect, and a second chance.

 What have you learned from your work with incarcerated individuals?

 So much! I have learned that people are remarkably resilient. The accomplishments of incarcerated individuals are more impressive to me than those by people with privilege, because many of them have significant challenges. I have met some very intelligent people who would have gone on a different path had their circumstances been different. I have also learned the value of letting people inside know that there are people who see them, and hear them, and care about their futures.

In addition, I have brought my on-campus students from UVM into the prisons for various activities, and I see tremendous benefit to that, for many reasons, but mostly to bring some humanity to their sense of the system.

 You have so many accomplishments, which, if any, are you most proud of?

 Well thanks! Personally, I am most proud that my spouse and I have raised two kids who are committed to social justice. But professionally, I think I am most proud of the Liberal Arts in Prison Program that I started (with lots of help from others!) because my hope is that it will be sustainable once I retire. We have only two semesters under our belt, but already a few incarcerated students, who were released, are pursuing higher education. Students have reported that they never thought they would be “college material” but now see themselves as students. That is deeply gratifying.

 What are you most hopeful for in the future with regard to offender reentry/reintegration in Vermont?

 I have been doing research on the Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA) program for a decade and am heartened by the fact that Vermont has run more CoSA groups than any state in the nation; this is all the more impressive given how small our prison population is. I think this program will continue to grow, with positive results. With the advantage of having the community justice structure, and the web of volunteers growing, I believe we can change the culture and narrative about the responsibility to help people reintegrate after prison. I would like to see us reduce the number of people going into prison, but I think that change is coming.

Kathy Fox and T.J. Donovan sitting at table

Protect Your Credit: Get a Free Freeze

Credit on ice

Under the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, credit freezes are free of charge to anybody, regardless of whether or not they are victims of identity theft. This new law requires credit-reporting agencies to eliminate the cost of credit freezes, credit unfreezes (thaws) and yearlong fraud alerts to consumers.

Website Required:  The three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian must design a website, where consumers can go to request this credit protection. The sites must also provide the ability to opt-out of receiving solicitations in the mail for insurance or credit card approval.

Protection for Children: The act allows guardians to request on behalf of children younger than 16 years old to freeze their credit.

Military Credit Offers: Members of the military with access to active duty alerts can request to remove their name from prescreened credit card offers for two years.


Why Should You Consider a Credit Freeze?

Identity theft is a type of fraud, which can be extremely detrimental to your financial and personal well-being. Identity theft often occurs when a bad actor gets access to your social security number or financial account number. Many consumers believe they won’t become targets for identity theft, because:

  • They odds are slim and assume it won’t happen to them.
  • They don’t have much money in their bank accounts to steal.
  • They don’t have credit cards and assume this means they don’t have a credit history.
  • They don’t have a poor credit history and believe a scammer will not benefit from having their information.

These arguments do NOT prevent bad actors from opening accounts using your information. The main concern is not the money you have but whether new accounts can be open without your knowledge, or consent.


Protect Your Credit

Issuing a credit freeze essentially stops any credit-reporting agency from reporting your credit score or credit report to a lender. Credit reports help lenders decide whether or not to extend a line of credit or grant loans to consumers. Often, without the ability to see the credit report, lenders will deny the credit line or loan, therefore protecting the consumer from unwanted accounts in their name.

Concerned that you may seek a line of credit in the future?—The thaw can help with that. You can contact the company before you plan to take on a new line of credit and lift the freeze temporarily.

The credit freeze is the best line of defense against bad actors stealing your information and using it for their own financial gain. Now that this process is free, anyone can consider placing a credit freeze on their account!

For more information about credit freezes or credit fraud alerts, visit FTC.gov or call our consumer helpline at 1-800-649-2424.

Contributing Writer: Alexandra Esposito

Sources:  The Federal Trade Commission