When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it? – Eleanor Roosevelt
Restorative Justice in Vermont is the result of the leadership and dedication of many throughout the state. In February 1995, the first case referred to a restorative process in Vermont was adjudicated in Newport, VT. District Judge Brian Burgess, who later became a justice of the Supreme Court, referred a young man convicted of Possession of a Malt Beverage by a minor. Maggie Hawksworth was the intake Probation Officer and Jane Woodruff the States Attorney. The young man was sent to the Reparative Board in Newport as a condition of a suspended sentence.
Building on the community-centered movement in Vermont in the 1980s and 1990s, research suggested Vermonters wanted more involvement with the justice system to allow communities to better respond to crime and conflict. They wanted repair, not vengeance; what was broken, fixed; what was stolen, returned; what was defaced, cleaned; what was destroyed, replaced. As a result of this research, in 1994, the Department of Corrections received a Bureau of Justice Assistant grant to pilot Reparative Probation to allow volunteers to voice the harm to community and facilitate a restorative agreement with those responsible. In 1998, based on the success of those programs, the Department of Corrections (DOC) partnered with municipalities to develop the first Community Justice Centers (CJCs).
Today, there are 20 CJCs delivering services to youth at risk, victims, Vermont communities affected by crime, and those responsible for criminal offenses. In 2015, services included hundreds of hours of training and education on crime prevention, in depth support to victims of crime, 1,819 new restorative justice panel referrals and 58 new Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSAs). Together efforts involved more than 700 community volunteers who together worked more than 22, 000 hours.
While every case is different, in 1995 the young man sent to the Reparative Board in Newport was described as a “young rebel” in conflict with the law and disconnected from his single mother. Those who know the family describe that panel as a turning point for him. While sadly he passed away in 2015, he had more 20 years with his mom, helping her and being part of her life. This was a trajectory he was not on before the reparative board.
CJCs continue to advance Restorative Justice in Vermont. They cannot do this work without our wonderful volunteers who work everyday to “…prevent human misery rather than try to avenge it.”