Social Justice

Restorative Justice in Vermont

Healing in the Community

The Problem

The continued concerns about crime expressed by citizens throughout the United States and the growing prison populations are good indicators that our present criminal justice system is not working. Attempts to deal with these concerns by passing new laws and imposing longer sentences do not address the basic issues: the victims of crime do not experience justice, and the community feels unsafe. Our current adversarial, retributive criminal justice system forgets the victim and sets up a contest between the lawyers for the state and the defense. At best, the victim gets to sit in the courtroom and address the judge before sentencing. At worst, the victim is ignored and re-victimized by the system which calls itself justice. And the community sits on the sidelines in fear.

Restoring Justice

Restorative Justice is a radical shift from the prevailing thinking about justice. It recognizes the harm done to the victim and places repairing that harm in the center of the system. Crime is a violation of the victim and the community; crime causes a tear in the fabric of society, and it is this tear which the public experiences and wants repaired. Retribution cannot repair this tear. Retribution can only push people farther apart, increasing the harm done to the offender as well.

In biblical terms, crime disrupts shalom, or the right relationships between individuals, the community, and God. Restorative justice works to restore shalom by holding the offender accountable to the victim for repairing the harm done by the crime, and by giving the community a role to play in responding to both the victim and the offender.

Traditional Justice asks:
What crime has been committed and how shall we punish the offender.

Restorative Justice asks:
What harm has been done to the community (victim & all those affected in any way) and how may we best repair that harm to the victim and the fabric of the community.

Restorative Justice Paradigm
Adapted from Howard Zehr
Healing the victim
Healing the community
Mentoring the offender

To be heard
To feel safe
To feel free of guilt and shame
To trust that justice will be served
To feel support from the community
Community Needs
Offender accountability
Reconciliation with the event
To feel safe
To return a healthy victim and offender to the community
That justice has been served
Reassurance that the offense was inappropriate behavior
Community empowerment

To be held accountable
To understand harm to victim and community
To express sorrow and feel empathy with the victim and community
To have a sense of security about and control over his future
To have hope for a better future

Principles of Restorative Justice

  1. Crimes and disputes are best resolved in the local communities where they occur.
    • Victims receive support, information, and assistance from friends, neighbors, and local officials.
    • Offenders are held accountable by (and to) the citizens of the community.
    • Community participation empowers victims, offenders, and local citizens to pursue equitable, pragmatic, and cost-effective ways to resolve conflict.
    • Programs that encourage dialogue, creative problem-solving, and personal transformation among the parties involved can not only meet the needs of victims and offenders, but also can create stable, peaceful, and engaged communities.

  2. The victim has special needs and claims that are at the center of the resolution process.
    • Victims should receive respect, empathy, and accurate information from people involved in the mediation and resolution process.
    • Victims need information about a range of available services for healing themselves and for pursuing claims against their offenders.
    • Victims need a venue in which to explain the harm done to them by the offender.
    • Victims need the opportunity to participate actively in the restorative process and to receive restitution from the offender.

  3. The offender has an opportunity to express remorse & repair the harm done to the victim & to the wider community.
    • Offenders have the opportunity to admit wrongdoing, take accountability for past actions, and offer an apology to the victim.
    • Offenders have a role in outlining a plan of restitution for the victim and community.
    • Offenders can receive appropriate services to prevent future wrongdoing and to be reintegrated back into the community.

  4. Community members have a need to feel safe, respected, and involved in issues that affect their quality of life and sense of personal well-being.
    • Active participation of community volunteers in developing and implementing conflict resolution programs facilitates cooperation with local officials and heightened connections between neighbors.
    • Community participants can explore flexible, creative, and proactive approaches to resolving conflict at the grassroots level.
    • Within an equitable and well defined framework, local citizens take responsibility for handling neighborhood disputes, shifting financial and personnel burdens away from the State and local authorities.

What Does Restorative Justice LookLike?
- From Minnesota Department of Corrections

Restorative Justice is not a single program.
It is a set of principles from which a number of responses flow.
Here is an outline of the types of responses which are within the
Restorative Justice paradigm.

Support and assistance are provided to victims and families of victims.
Restitution is given priority over other financial obligations of the offender.
Victim/offender mediation or conferencing is available for victims and offenders who wish to participate.

Community volunteers are involved in working with offenders. The community provides work opportunities so that offenders can pay restitution to victims.
Offenders are engaged in community service projects valued by the community.
Offender treatment programs include components on victim empathy and responsibility as a community member.

Offenders face the personal dimension of the harm caused by their crime through victim/offender mediation, victim panels or community panels.
If they wish, victims have the opportunity to help shape the obligations placed on the offender for repairing the harm.

Sanctions which repair the harm of crime take priority over sanctions imposed just for punishment.

The courts and corrections agencies provide annual reports on measures related to reparation.

Community members are involved in advisory boards which guide the courts and corrections agencies.

Businesses and community organizations work with offenders to reintegrate them into the community as offenders fulfill their obligations.

Churches sponsor support groups for offenders trying to change life patterns.

Offenders leave the corrections system with greater skills than when they entered.

Restorative Activities
Here are features of some existing restorative activities.

Reparative Boards
The offender is referred to a panel of community volunteers and victim(s) are invited to attend.

The offender gains an understanding of the consequences of his/her actions.

All parties discuss the harm done and how the offender can repair the harm.
Using a collaborative, problem-solving approach, a contract with the offender is agreed upon with specific actions to be completed by the offender.

Circle Process

This egalitarian, talking process can be used for many purposes, such as to develop consensus on community problems or to formulate a community based response to a criminal act.

Circles have a traditional structure that invites participation from each person and a facilitator who serves the entire circle.

Victim Impact Panels
The offender comes face to face with a group of victims of crimes similar to that which the offender committed.

Victims tell their stories about the crimes they experienced and the affect on their lives. (Victims do not speak to groups in which their own offender is present.)

There is no dialogue during the presentation, but there may be a question and answer period, if victims agree.

The offenders are frequently asked to write their reactions to what they have heard at the panel.

Victim-Offender Mediation
This voluntary process allows an opportunity for victims and offenders to speak directly with each other in a safe, supported environment.

The victim can talk about the impact of the crime upon his/her life and the offender learns about the impact of his/her actions and is given the opportunity to apologize and make amends.

A trained mediator prepares participants and facilitates dialogue.

Diversion Boards
This voluntary alternative to the formal court for the first time offender (juveniles or adults) is available to offenders willing to accept responsibility for their actions.

The board invites victim input and meets with the offender to design a contract which describes activities the offender must complete to repair the harm and make amends.

The State's Attorney dismisses charge when the Diversion contract is successfully completed by the offender.

Family Group Conferences
A conference brings together the victim, offender, supporters of each, and community members to resolve a crime or offense. The offender must admit to the offense to participate.

A trained facilitator plans the conference and brings the parties together to discuss the harm done by the offender and how the harm can be repaired .

Community Dialogue Facilitation
Forums are organized to invite public dialogue about public, community issues.

Forums are custom designed and facilitated to meet the needs of the particular issue and/or participants.

Community dialogue can result in better understanding of an issue, an action plan, or whatever the participants choose.

Community Response Activities
Common neighborhood complaints (parking, noise, dogs, etc.) are handled by bringing together all the parties with an appropriate process to facilitate a mutually agreeable resolution.

Victims are supported by neighbors who volunteer to help repair any damage.

Police refer cases of minor crime or misconduct directly to a Community Justice Center, where an appropriate process (Reparative Board, group conference, mediation, etc.) is set up to bring the affected parties together to allow the offender to repair the harm.

Programs, panels, and/or mentors are made available to help re-assimilate offenders or other disenfranchised people back into their communities.

The Vermont ReparativeProbation Program

Reparative Probation is a form of community-sponsored probation that brings convicted offenders before a volunteer board of citizens as part of their sentencing process. It is restorative rather than retributive in nature. The victims of the crime and the community are the focus, as opposed to the offender who is the focus in a traditional probation program.

In Reparative Probation the offender must take responsibility for the crime. He/She appears at a public meeting before a panel of Community Volunteer Board members to discuss the nature and circumstances of the criminal act.

The panel starts with the victim's account of how the crime affected them. The panel then gives the offender and others a chance to speak. The panel develops a contract containing activities which are in accord with the goals of the program. If the offender successfully completes the contract within 3 months and there are no other conditions, the probation officer will recommend a discharge from Reparative Probation.

Goals of Reparative Probation

Offenders are led through these steps in forming a contract
which they must fulfill within a 90 day period

To understand the impact of the crime on victims and the community.

To make appropriate amends to the victim and affected parties.

To make amends to the community.

To learn ways not to re-offend.

To successfully integrate back into the community.

Currently, Vermont Reparative Boards address misdemeanors and
some nonviolent felonies and exclude cases of domestic violence.

Prisoner ReentryPrograms

Assisting the successful restoration of released inmates as productive citizens
provides a major opportunity for all segments of the community.

Traditionally an inmate is released after years of a lifestyle totally incompatible from life on the outside. Aside from any residual anger and bitterness developed during a punitive and impersonal incarceration; by poor medical care; by lack of programs and educational opportunity, there is little preparation for the challenges of gaining employment and resuming a productive life. Perhaps this explains the high recidivism rates being experienced throughout the nation.

A nationwide initiative is being supported by the federal government to begin community efforts to ensure public safety and reduce victimization by helping returning offenders become productive members of their communities. Vermont alone, is receiving two-million dollars to design a pilot program which might be a model for the nation.

The intent is to educate and treat offenders to not only help them improve their lives but to reduce the chance they will return to crime and drug abuse. The intent is that the reentry programs will improve public safety and reduce the burden on law enforcement and corrections.

There is now an unparalleled opportunity for community organizations, religious groups and individuals to take a lead in helping inmates get reestablished in the community. Effective reentry efforts begin while offenders are still in correctional facilities and continue through their transition back into the community.

Personal mentoring relationships; assistance at completing education and obtaining vocational training; providing adequate medical care, alcohol and drug counseling; help in securing housing and job opportunities are essential services to enable a successful transition from state custody to successful productive independent living.

Exercised care to assure that the victim and affected parties are not re-victimized, some religious groups and community organizations have adopted an inmate and will mentor him/her through the transition. In conjunction with the inmate's case workers, parole &/or probation officers and available community services, they will provide the personal community resources to assist in restoring the inmate as a productive member of the community.

Community Justice Centers

The Restorative Justice Center is an emerging community/citizen project. Its goal is to strengthen individual and community responsibility through the promotion of restorative justice practices and community-driven programs and activities. Through these programs, citizen volunteers learn about conflict resolution, bring community and restorative principles to crime and conflict, participate in justice-related forums, and offer their time, skills and caring to victims of crime, offenders, families and neighbors in need.

What Can a Restorative Justice Center Provide?

Conflict resolution skills training.
Mediation and other conflict resolution services.
Reparative program.
Family group conferencing.
Reintegration panels and services.
Community dialogue facilitation.
Community response activities: neighborhood and youth.
Information and referrals to resources.

What Does the Community Get?
Victims needs are addressed.
Offenders are responsible.
Citizens are involved.
Communities are safer, and empowered.
Reconciliation and reparation occurs.

Who Benefits from Restorative Methods?
Criminal and non-criminal matters.
Adults and juveniles.
School discipline and truancy situations.
Pre and post adjudication.
Neighborhood and landlord/tenant disputes.
Noise, parking and other community nuisance issues.

Who Are the Potential Referral Sources?
States Attorney.
Law enforcement.
Local Support Agencies.


Brief Work Plan for Establishing a Justice Center
This is a very condensed outline —
Contact Carl Roof at the Vermont Dept of Corrections
for a more detailed version.

Form Steering Committee

Establish a group of volunteers from diverse segments of the community willing to meet regularly to guide the process of establishing a justice center.

Develop Publicity Materials

Research and gather available information and documents that already exist to explain the concepts and practices of restorative justice. Establish relationship with media regarding the Restorative Justice Center to get the word out about what's happening and to generate interest.

Hold Public Forums

Develop a creative, engaging, interactive forum to educate the community about concepts, practices, and possibilities for a Restorative Justice Center. Distribute a brief questionnaire to collect information about interests, ideas, and concerns from those in attendance. Invite input from anyone/everyone in the community.

Dialogue With Targeted Stakeholders

Identify and open dialogue with those organizations of stakeholders, referral sources, etc. most crucial to the success of a Restorative Justice Center — municipalities, schools, churches, community organizations, etc.

Learn About Existing Restorative Justice Center Models

Gather information about other RJCs in Vermont and elsewhere: population served, services offered, community response, operating parameters, governance structure, etc.

Making Conclusions

Compile and analyze information gathered from community members and targeted stakeholders. Creatively consider all of the information gathered, draw conclusions. Issue and publicize a report summarizing the information you have gathered.

Establish a Board of Directors and Seek Funding

Directors should be "doers" and be representative of the community. Coordinate with the community governing body and begin to obtain funding, find offices and hire a coordinator.

A Restorative Justice Booklist
Compiled by: Richard Frechette (Friends for Restorative Justice)

Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice.
Zehr, Howard. Scottdale, Pennsylvania; Herald Press, 1990. 280 pages.
Considered by many to be the grandfather of the restorative justice movement in North America, this presents the author's understanding of RJ, both from an historical and faith basis

Crime, Shame, and Reintegration.
Braithwaite, John. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
This is probably the world's first modern look at the need for systemic change to a restorative form of justice.

Criminology as Peacemaking
. Pepinsky, Harold E. and Quinney, Richard (editors), Bloomington, IN; Indiana University Press, 1991. 339 pages.
Provides a backdrop to a restorative justice movement, looking at criminology as a peacemaking science in place of the traditional military science.

Guidelines for Victim-Sensitive Victim Offender Mediation
. Umbreit, Mark S, and Coates, Robert B Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice, 2000. Publication #NCJ-176346; 63 pages (order free from 800-627-6872)
This document deals with a subject that challenges U.S. Friends in so many areas. A "must" reading for those considering involvement in the organizational end of the movement.

Justice That Heals: A Biblical Vision for Victims and Offenders.
Boers, Arthur Paul. Newton, Kansas: Faith and Life Press, 1992
Coincidence of the alphabet has this list book-ended by the two "classics" of restorative justice from a faith-based perspective.

Multicultural Implications of Restorative Justice: Potential Pitfalls and Dangers.
Umbreit, Mark S, and Coates, Robert B. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice, 2000. Publication #NCJ- 176348; 21 pages (order free from 800-627-6872)
This document deals with a subject that challenges U.S. Friends in so many areas. A "must" reading for those considering involvement in the organizational end of the movement.

Restorative Justice: International Perspectives
. Hudson, Joe and Burt Galaway (editors), Monsey, NY; Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Criminal Justice Press and Kugler Publications, 1996. 516 pages.
Excellent review of restorative justice theory and practices throughout the world.

Restoring Justice.
Van Ness, Daniel W. and Karen Heetderks Strong. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co., 1997. 221 pages
This book provides both a conceptual framework of restorative justice and a comprehensive overview of restorative justice in practice. It will appeal to both a faith-based and secular audience.

Satisfying Justice: Safe Community Options that attempt to repair harm from crime and reduce the use or length of imprisonment.
The Church Council on Justice and Corrections. Ottowa, Ontario: (same), 1996. 334 pages (download the PDF file from:, or order from the Church Council (613-563-1688)

A wonderful compendium of promising practices throughout Canada and elsewhere, produced by Canada's Church Council. Many are quite appropriate for faith communities.

Shalom: The Bible's Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace. Yoder, Perry B. Newton, KA: Faith and Life Press, 1987. 154 pages
Without referencing the phrase Restorative Justice, this book provides a Judeo/Christian foundation for understanding what restorative justice is all about from a basis of faith.

Victim Meets Offender: The Impact of Restorative Justice and Mediation.
Umbreit, Mark S., et al. Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press, 1994. 244 pages.
The author is probably the country's foremost expert on victim/offender mediation; this book is both an exploration of the use of the process, and the first serious qualitative/quantitative analysis of the program's performance.

Restoring Justice, an excellent 50 minute video is available from the Presbyterian Church, USA—call 800-524-2612 and ask for item # PDS 72-630-96-720. The cost is only $ 5.00.

Restorative and Community Justice Websites
Click here, for a
Large List of Restorative Justice Websites

What Can You Do?

Form a restorative justice discussion group in your community organization; get a speaker.

Learn about your State's justice system; assess how restorative the system is.

Talk to your legislator about your concern for restorative justice.

Become trained as a volunteer in a Reparative Panel or a facilitator of family group conferencing or victim-offender mediation.

Form a support group to assist crime victims in your community.

Talk to your municipal officials about forming a community-based justice board or a community justice center.

Take a lead in organizing a prisoner reentry program in your community.

All material on this page is available in booklet form
for distribution in your community.

AVP Distribution Service
844 John Fowler Road
Plainfield VT 05667

1-5 copies $1.00/ea. Postpaid
6-24 copies $.75/ea. + $1.50 Postage
25 + copies $.50 + $3.00 Postage
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