Restorative Justice Week

Editor of the Reformer:

The week of Nov. 15 through 22 is Restorative Justice Week in Canada, and internationally. This year's theme is "Inspiring Innovation."

"Restorative justice is a philosophy and an approach that views crime and conflict as harm done to people and relationships. It is a non-adversarial, non-retributive approach to justice that emphasizes healing in victims, accountability of offenders, and the involvement of citizens in creating healthier, safer communities. The goal is to reach meaningful, satisfying, and fair outcomes through inclusion, open communication, and truth."

While the tools and processes can vary from place to place, there remains a strong core agreement about the work of restorative justice programs. Borrowing from Howard Zehr, RJ programs aim to place key decisions into the hands of those affected by crime, to make "justice" more healing and transformative, and to reduce the likelihood of future offenses. Commonly used practices can include reparative panels, circles of support and accountability, other forms of circle processes, mediation, and community restorative conferencing.

In Vermont, RJ programs have developed from grass roots up. As a result programs can vary from one locale to another under the notion that local needs should determine the nature of the RJ practices used. Even within Brattleboro we have a wide variety of processes that are available to implement restorative justice.


Locally we also have the good fortune to have many people and organizations dedicated to advancing the principles of restorative justice. The Brattleboro Community Justice Center, located in the Municipal Building provides Restorative Justice panels made up of local citizens, helps promote successful prison reentry and increase community safety, and offers a variety of other restorative justice services.

Brattleboro Union High School is in its 11th year of having a formal restorative justice program, one of the longest continuously running high school RJ programs in Vermont and in the nation. It offers a non-punitive way to deal with students who violate school rules. While still holding students accountable for their actions, the program focuses on helping students understand the impact of rule violations on not only individual students but on the entire school community. Further, BUHS helps students repair damaged relationships so reoccurrences are less likely to happen. An ultimate goal is to keep kids productively in school and to limit suspensions, and thereby reduce the dropout rate and prevent the life-long problems that often follow.

The Just Schools Project, founded by Brattleboro resident Mel Motel, works with schools to implement restorative practices school-wide in order to build school community and respond to harm. This Project trains school staff, administrators, and students in restorative processes — such as how to facilitate circle processes in class — and supports schools to shift school culture and policies towards a restorative model. "Kicked Out" recommends restorative justice as one way of addressing racial and other disparities facing students in Vermont schools. In line with the report's findings, the project uses restorative practices to create support, understanding, safety, and justice for the most marginalized kids in our school system.

Restorative Justice programs operated by Youth Services include Court Diversion, Youth Substance Abuse Safety Program, and Pre-Trial (pre-charge) Services.

Restorative Justice practices have been studied and shown to be incredibly effective in repairing harm, and restoring to communities a sense of balance. For more information there are a multitude of websites you can visit, there is a Restorative Justice Week Facebook site, or you can contact with one of the organizations mentioned above.

Darah Kehnemuyi, Director, Brattleboro Community Justice Center, Nov. 16