By members of the Windham County Coalition for Restorative Communities (WCRC)
We see the value in having public recognition of instances of harm in the community. It’s good to know what’s going on with our neighbors. In reality, however, the information given in the Police Log is coming into a society that meets harm with punishment rather than solutions. Unfortunately, community members who have had contact with law enforcement are often subjected to a public humiliation that is solidified in black ink. We have heard this time and time again from folks who come through our restorative programs. Their friends, family, employers, and fellow community members read the paper’s version of events and often respond the way they’ve been taught: through shaming that person in whatever way they see fit. It takes conscious effort and practice to make our reaction to wrongdoing restorative, and the Police Log doesn’t offer the space necessary for that work to begin.
This is a “Restorative Practices Log,” celebrating both international Restorative Justice week (November 17th-24th) and the successes of people and organizations in the community employing restorative programs and responses to wrongdoing. Restorative Practices focuses on building community and relationships through effective communication and responding to conflict by involving everyone affected by the event and together determining how best to repair the harm done by it. Restorative Practices asks us to work with folks involved in a harmful situation rather than doing something to them or doing something for them. This new restorative narrative sees crime and wrongdoing as people shedding light on greater harms that are at play in the community and putting the responsibility to recognize, address, and repair this harm on the entire community.
Dan DeWalt - Restorative Community Justice of Southern Vermont (RCJSV)
Restorative Community Justice of Southern Vermont has a mission to bring restorative practice skills to everyone on the planet, starting with southern Vermont. RCJSV holds free monthly trainings to develop a corps of volunteers who then are able to do restorative conflict resolution for their friends and neighbors. RCJSV now offers free conflict resolution to anyone who requests it. Our work has ranged from restoring damaged relationships in a school setting, to facilitating circles for police and folks who have done harm, to resolving conflicts in businesses and in the marketplace. Our circles give the parties involved in a conflict the opportunity to meet face to face. Every participant gets a chance to speak fully about themselves and their actions, this includes whomever is seen as the aggressor in the conflict. RCJSV facilitates, but those involved in the conflict are the ones who determine the solutions.
Ginger Driscoll - Greater Falls Community Justice Center (GFCJC)
Suzanne Belleci, Director of Greater Falls Community Justice Center, was invited to present to the local charitable group, 100 Who Care Windham Southeast Vermont. 100 People Who Care is a national trend of local chapters who want to contribute to a better world by starting in their own communities. The group listens to five minute presentations by local community organizations, each followed by a question and answer session. Then they vote to decide which group will receive a donation of $25 from each member. GFCJC was selected as the winning organization at the recent meeting on November 15th. Funds will be used to support fathering classes for those impacted by incarceration. GFCJC is grateful for 100 Who Care’s time and generosity.
Mike Szostak- Restorative Practices at Windham Southeast School District (WSESD)
Restorative justice, or ideally restorative living, does not address all of the ills of our society but it is an active step toward at least offsetting some. This approach places the focus on finding ways to address the harm caused to both individuals and the community as a whole. In a restorative circle, all participants have an equal voice regardless of factors such as gender, race, and income-level. It is not we vs. they, each side armed with lawyers. Instead, it is an approach where all involved parties work together to arrive at a workable resolution, while holding those creating harm accountable in a way that gives realistic hope to redemption and constructive long-term change. We are fortunate to live in a community where the value of restorative justice is being recognized, as evidenced by restorative justice work being done by various organizations throughout our community, including our schools.
Grace Koch - Brattleboro Community Justice Center
The Brattleboro Community Justice Center (BCJC) wraps up the first year of partnering with the Brattleboro Food Co-op, the Brattleboro Police Department, and the State's Attorney for its Restorative Businesses Program pilot. This program has folks come to the BCJC rather than being charged in instances of shoplifting, unlawful trespass, and disorderly conduct at the Co-op. At the BCJC those who have done some sort of harm in the community go through a restorative session (or multiple restorative sessions) with both staff and our community volunteers where they answer the questions: What happened? Who was impacted? How were they impacted? What do you think can be done to repair the harm? This repairing has looked like people returning stolen merchandise, folks paying the Co-op restitution for items stolen, and others working through the harm they have caused through a restorative lens. We hope to expand this program by partnering with other businesses in Brattleboro so that more people are working through harm by being brought further into the community rather than being pushed further away from it.