Restorative Justice Panels
Restorative Justice Panels are made up of volunteers trained in restorative practices who meet with people who have committed offenses, along with their victims and supporters, if any, to have a conversation about what happened and what the offender can do to deepen his or her understanding of the harm, make amends to those who need it, make a positive connection with community, and make a plan to not reoffend. The person who offended makes an agreement with the panel and has two to three months to complete it. This is different from community sentencing in that the process is collaborative and all must agree to the outcome.
Circles of Support and Accountability (COSAs)
Circles of Support and Accountability are groups of three volunteers and a staff person who work with a “core member” who is returning to his or her community from prison, on what is called “conditional furlough” status. The core member has completed his or her minimum sentence but still has at least a year to serve before reaching his or her maximum. Conditional furlough has been described as “incarceration within the community” since the core member is still under Department of Corrections supervision and can be returned to prison if s/he violates the rules set forth in the written furlough.
First instituted in Canada, COSAs in Vermont provide core members with a support group committed to working with them for a year to help them get back on their feet and be law-abiding citizens. While offering support in the form of rides, conversation, and understanding, they also help core members hold themselves accountable for following the rules and behaving in a pro-social manner.
Family Group Conferences
A family group conference involves a face-to-face meeting between the victim and offender. A family group conference, however, also engages a larger group of participants, which includes the support people for both victim and offender, relevant professionals, and a facilitator. All participants have an opportunity to talk about the offense, to express their feelings and concerns, and to get answers to their questions. All participants may also express opinions on how the offender should make amends. Many times the resulting agreement includes activities not only for the person who offended, but also commitments by supporters and family members to help the offender stay on the right path and complete his or her agreement.
Community Conflict Assistance
Community justice centers offer mediation services to members of the community to help resolve neighbor disputes over things like property boundaries, animal complaints, noise, and other neighborhood issues. Mediators are neutral parties who work with those in dispute to help them arrive at a mutually-agreeable solution to the problem.