Newport Community Justice Center
Barbara Morrow, Director
55 Seymour Lane
Newport, VT 05855
The mission of the Newport Community Justice Center (NCJC) is to facilitate community action to deal with conflict and crime in a restorative* fashion. Believing that an effective, committed community is our best tool, we train community volunteers in restorative justice and conflict resolution practices, and work to provide continuity and coordination in a range of community based programs.
The Center’s five Reparative Board panels rely on about twenty trained volunteers and handle about fifty cases a year for the District Court. Each case begins with Court documents, police affidavits, victim interviews, and an NCJC staff intake meeting with the responsible party. In their first meeting with their Board panel, responsible parties work with victims and Board volunteers to sort out what harm has been done both directly and indirectly (e.g., to the community), and how it can best be repaired. Written Reparative Agreements in the first meeting are followed up in the second (45 days later), and completion is generally expected at the 90 day final meeting. Rarely occurring unsuccessful cases are returned to the State’s Attorney for further action.
The Community Pre-Charge Program operates as an extension of the Reparative Board, but somewhat more flexibly (e.g., frequently meeting more than three times on one case), and often handles youthful offenders.** All formal pre-charge cases now come to the Center on the recommendation of law enforcement with the approval of the State’s Attorney, and no formal charges are filed against those who complete the program successfully. The Pre-Charge Program currently sees a fair number of school discipline (e.g., assault) cases, although school discipline cases also come to the Center as Direct Referral cases in a program the Center is working to expand into the schools, tapping students, parents, and other volunteers in the community as school based Board panel members.
Offender Reentry Programs are currently focused on volunteer “Circles of Support and Accountability” for offenders coming out of prison. Based on a successful Canadian model, COSAs facilitate reentry transitions, reducing recidivism and prison costs. The Center also works closely with the Community High School of Vermont and its new Newport “City Site” and associated reentry population.
In the summer of 2008, the NCJC provided a 32 hour mediation course for about twenty volunteers. The Center also has about twenty volunteers*** trained in the “Real Justice” Conferencing approach to dispute resolution. These volunteers form the core of the Center’s Dispute Resolution Program, offering services in landlord/tenant and other conflict situations to the community.
In an effort to address some of the sources of conflict and crime in their earliest stages, the NCJC is an active participant in the State’s Attorney’s new Truancy Group, providing Family Group Conferencing in this, and in other situations, as a way of addressing ongoing conflict and crime involving young people. The Center and its volunteers are also active in a number of Prevention Programs, including “Sail Memphremagog” (aided by a small grant from the Vermont Children’s Trust Fund) and small martial arts and basketball programs with the Newport Recreation Department.
NCJC volunteers are, for the most part, quite vigorously engaged with their community both professionally and on a volunteer basis. Overlaps in volunteer base and leadership, as well as links through Reparative Agreements involving community service, have produced strong connections with a wide range of other organizations in the community, including especially the Newport Community Garden, Northeast Kingdom Habitat for Humanity, and Sail Memphremagog, as well as Northeast Kingdom Learning Services, Umbrella, Northeast Kingdom Human Services, Northeast Kingdom Community Action, the Department for Children and Families and, of course, Newport Probation and Parole. Other activities, including ongoing training, and hosting occasional community forums on matters of local interest or contention, strengthen these and other partnerships.
* This term is used in the sense perhaps presented most accessibly by Howard Zehr in The Little Book of Restorative Justice (Good Books, 2002), and more formally in John Braithwaite’s Crime, shame and reintegration(Cambridge University Press, 1989).
** See “Starting Early, Youthful Offenders’ Reparative Board Experiences” NCJC, November 2009.
*** The Center’s volunteer pools overlap, but are not identical, in its various programs and activities.