BENNINGTON -- Leitha Cipriano, the executive director of Bennington’s Center for Restorative Justice, 439 Main St., says the small nonprofit organization seems to be best known within the community for its court diversion and juvenile work. However, CRJ has recently implemented a new DLS (driving with a suspended license) program to help local drivers with suspended licenses get back behind the wheel and generate feasible payment plans for their accumulated fines.
This new diversion program was created in January with the passing of Act 147 by the Vermont Supreme Court.
According to Cipriano, even though the program began in January, Bennington’s CRJ did not begin offering it to local drivers until May.
Four people have been approved for the program so far and another six are being considered, according to Cipriano, with a total of 30 local drivers on a waiting list.
Casandra Simmons, 24, of Pownal, was recently re-issued her drivers license after three years. She lost her license after being issued a surplus of speeding tickets.
"It feels so awesome," she said of regaining her license. "The program was really helpful and it gives me the time to pay off my fines with a payment plan I can afford."
Thousands of drivers in Vermont drive with suspended licenses on a daily basis, according to Cipriano.
"It’s a huge problem," she said. "Before they know it, they’ve gotten themselves into a situation that they can’t get out of and things snowball quickly. They’re not supposed to be driving but need to work to pay off fines."
CRJ, she said, offers hope to drivers who may feel as though they want to give up.
The new DLS program will allow approved applicants the opportunity to have their driver’s license reinstated and establish a payment plan for any fines they may have.
"It gets people on the road legally, gets their cars insured and registered and helps drivers feel like they have control over their situation," said Cipriano. "In the end, we all benefit, not just the driver, but every other driver and citizen on the road, too."
In the four cases that have been examined by Bennington’s CRJ, Cipriano said she has seen drivers with as few as five tickets to upwards of 20 tickets. Consequently, the time it takes for drivers to be issued a new license depends on the number of tickets they currently hold.
As far as paying off any fines, Cipriano says that community service options are available to applicants who can prove to be in financial distress.
"The beauty of this program is that once it is successfully completed, all prior suspensions are wiped clean from the driver’s record," said Cipriano. "People should definitely be held accountable for their actions under the law, but sometimes they just need a little help navigating the system."
There are only five reasons that an applicant may be denied eligibility for the program. These include any DUI, DWI, or civil DUI/DWI, any gross negligent operation, aggravated operation of a vehicle without the owner’s consent, and leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury.
CRJ will host an open house on Wednesday, Oct. 16, as an opportunity for community members to learn more about the services offered by the organization.
"We want to let people know what we do," said Cipriano. "We’re so much more than just court diversion."
To learn more about the Bennington Center for Restorative Justice, visit www.bcrj.org or call 447-1595
Contact Elizabeth Conkey at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.