The South Burlington Community Justice Center’s (CJC) Parallel Justice Program is something director Lisa Bedinger has wanted to implement for years.
“The goal is to provide more victim services,” she explained in a recent interview. “The way the system is set up, there is significantly more funding for people who commit crimes than for the victims of those crimes.”
The CJC is one of 20 in Vermont, dedicated to respond to crime and conflict through community involvement in Vermont’s justice system. The goal is to work with offenders to take responsibility for their crimes and to make reparations with victims and entities that were damaged or harmed by their actions.
The CJC offers several programs to help that process, including the Restorative Re-entry Program, which helps offenders re-enter society after serving their prison sentences. The Circle of Support and Accountability offers a network of community members who volunteer time to support the offenders as they try to build back their lives after prison.
There is also the Community Conflict Assistance Program, which facilitates dialogue and conflict mediation related to neighborhood and community issues such as noise, pets, boundaries and landlord-tenant disputes.
Bedinger was finally able to start the Parallel Justice Program in July, which provides support services to victims of crimes regardless of the outcome of the case.
“It used to be that the services available to the victim depended on whether the offender was convicted, or were never caught, or if and when they went to court,” Bedinger said. “This program breaks that cycle and provides services to victims no matter what, even if the offender is never caught.”
She said crime victims are often also burdened with the emotional and financial costs of a crime, and the Parallel Justice Program offers assistance with funding those costs, such as paying to repair property damage or counseling services.
“This program creates initial contact with victims within the first week after the crime,” Bedinger said.
Go, Stop, Go
But the new program was in jeopardy this year after funding ended in July and additional grant funding that was supposed to start July 1 was postponed until Oct. 1. There was a three-month gap and Bedinger needed $5,000 to pay staffing costs until the new grant kicked in.
Enter the Classic Mike Loyer Foundation, a South Burlington based non-profit organized in 2011. It was founded one day after the accidental workplace death of South Burlington resident Mike Loyer, in memory of his giving spirit. But it was also founded to help the families of other workplace accident victims.
Over the years, the foundation has expanded its mission to include the financial support of unique causes within the South Burlington community.
And, that’s where the Parallel Justice Program comes in.
“I connected with one of the South Burlington police officers who told me about the Mike Loyer Foundation,” Bedinger said. “He brought it to the foundation on behalf of the CJC.”
Within three weeks, Bedinger received a $5,000 gift from the foundation to keep the Parallel Justice Program up and running through the summer.
Steve Loyer is the brother of Mike Loyer and serves on the foundation’s board of directors.
He said in a phone interview that the request from the CJC for help fit nicely into the foundation’s mission.
“We felt this was absolutely something we could do,” Loyer said. “That it was important to help the victims, the folks who might feel like they didn’t have support, and we felt it fit nicely in with our acts of kindness mission and was a good fit for us.”
Filling a Need
Since the Parallel Justice Program began in May, Bedinger said 62 people have been contacted who were affected by crime in South Burlington.
She said victims are often just glad to know that the program exists and don’t require additional services. Others want to know what to ask for when they go to court, or may need family counseling support if there have been emotional and/or physical injuries.
Victims often ask to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation and don’t want to put their families or their neighbors in danger, but Bedinger said the CJC can still work to support those victims safely.
“Most people say, ‘I’m all set,’ and how great it is that South Burlington has this program,” Bedinger said. “And it’s just an opportunity for them to be heard.”
The new grant from the Vermont Center for Criminal Victim Services, if approved, is designed to fund victim service work for the next three years statewide. Bedinger said she is asking for $19,000 to pay for nine months of half-time staffing costs. She will find out if the CJC request for grant funding has been approved within the next month.
As for the Mike Loyer Foundation, Bedinger is grateful for the gap funding, and pleased that it came from a local organization.
“It’s amazing to know that there is an organization in our community that can help with one-time need for individuals and organizations,” she said.
For more information about the Classic Mike Loyer Foundation, visit theclassicmikeloyer.org, or email Steve Loyer at firstname.lastname@example.org. To reach the Criminal Justice Center in South Burlington, call 802-846-4215, or email email@example.com.
SOURCE: Lee Kahrs, The Other Paper