Jun 25, 2010
The population of Vermont has grown only ten percent in the last twenty years, and violent crime in that same period has dropped by thirty percent. But during these same years Vermont's prison population has swelled, and the cost of incarceration has skyrocketed. In these twenty years, Vermont has created more prison beds - and filled them - and still has to send some offenders out of state.
But hard economic times, combined with Vermont's "Challenges for Change" initiative, have placed the policies of jailing low-level offenders under scrutiny. What's clear is that keeping people in jail is very expensive. What's also become evident is that Vermont has a highly successful alternate, cheaper, and more effective means of dealing with non-violent offenders called Restorative Justice, administered through local Community Justice Centers and independent Reparative Boards.
Rob Hoffman is Secretary of Vermont's Agency of Human Resources. He says, "The data on reparative boards is the equivalent of a home run." Not only does Vermont's restorative justice program save money, it works: offenders who go through our programs connect with their communities and are less likely to re-offend than people sent to jail. Hoffman added, "Human services needs provided at the local level are more personal and more nimble."
Community Justice is local justice. It aims to repair the harm done by a non-violent offender in the community where the offense has taken place. Ideally, the process includes the victim, who has a chance to let the offender know how he or she has been affected by the crime. The process relies on trained volunteers with some administrative support.