Thanks to a grant received from the Vermont Department of Corrections, South Burlington has a new Community Justice Center (CJC), and its positive impact is already apparent.
South Burlington’s CJC is one of only thirteen such programs in Vermont, explained Lisa Bedinger, CJC coordinator. According to the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, CJCs “offer volunteer, citizen-delivered restorative processes as a first step for dealing with conflict and lower levels of crime before resorting to the traditional court process.” South Burlington’s CJC’s work, Ms. Bedinger added, will revolve around overseeing the well-established South Burlington Reparative Boards, holding Restorative Conferences, supporting victims of crimes, and adding services as the center grows.
Ms. Bedinger, who holds a Master’s degree in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies from Woodbury College, originally worked professionally in the nonprofit world as a financial and business manager. Her draw to Woodbury’s program stemmed from her interest in “working with people where they stay in charge of the decisions that are made. Community Justice Centers are based on this idea. The people involved in a restorative justice process, both those who caused the harm and those who were affected, know what will work for them, and those types of solutions are often better than solutions imposed from the outside.”
Ms. Bedinger deeply values the work of the South Burlington Reparative Boards, noting that the restorative justice approach of the Boards “lets people address their mistakes in a direct way to repair damage and still allows them to be restored back into the community.”
“The three South Burlington Reparative Boards are run and facilitated by a total of seventeen volunteers,” she continued, adding that Board members range in age “from in their teens to in their 70s” and that she will continue to seek volunteers for the Boards as other programs of the CJC grow.
Through the support of the City Council and city manager, the CJC has become a division of the South Burlington Police Department. South Burlington Chief of Police Trevor Whipple captured the gratitude many feel about this next step for the community: “The City of South Burlington is fortunate to have a newly established Community Justice Center. The ability to address criminal, disorder and quality of life issues at the community level brings incredible value to the process. Outcomes from restorative justice practices are frequently more successful, meaningful, and lasting than the more traditional criminal justice system.”
For more information about the South Burlington Community Justice Center, please contact Coordinator Lisa Bedinger at 846-4215.
SOURCE: Susie Merrick, Contributor