BENNINGTON — The Center for Restorative Justice in Bennington has received a $20,000 donation from an anonymous donor-advised fund at the Vermont Community Foundation in support of a local juvenile justice program.
"Several months ago, Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette, State's Attorney Erica Marthage and I discussed the need for a program that offers a quick, restorative response to low-level juvenile offenses involving police interaction," Leitha Cipriano, the CRJ executive director, said in a release.
She said the program they envisioned would allow police officers to directly refer juveniles to CRJ to participate in a restorative intervention without the need to go through a court process. However, that program could not be launched for lack of financial resources.
"The generous donor's grant to CRJ will allow us to bring this exciting new program to fruition." Cipriano stated.
CRJ is a non-profit organization which has served Bennington County for 35 years, providing restorative justice based solutions for both adults and juveniles.
Each year, CRJ provides services to more than 1,100 individuals through a variety of programs, including Treatment Diversion, Juvenile Restorative Justice Programs, Adult Restorative Justice Programs, the Street Checker Program, Mentoring and Life Skills Development, Student Hope and Opportunity Program, Safe Driving Program and programs dedicated to helping those transition from incarceration to living in the community again.
"Providing a restorative intervention before a charge is filed in court for young people involved in first-time, low-level offenses will have a significant impact on not only the family court system but the entire community," Cipriano said.
She said that this type of program is only possible with financial support and the cooperation of the State's Attorney's Office and the BPD.
"CRJ is such a valuable resource in our community," Marthage said. "My office utilizes CRJ's restorative justice services in a large number of cases each year, for both juvenile and adult issues. However, because they operate with fixed financial resources, it restricts their ability to launch new programs."
Doucette agreed that the new program will offer the community one more choice in dealing with juvenile issues.
"Right now, my officers' options are limited when dealing with crimes committed by juveniles. This new program will offer these officers an alternative way of addressing these issues which avoids court action but holds kids accountable. It's a win-win."
Although the donor was anonymous, Cipriano wanted to make sure they knew the value of their donation.
"We are extremely grateful to this donor and their very generous donation. Being recognized for our work and commitment to helping bring more restorative interventions to our community is wonderful and validating" she said.
The Bennington CRJ office is located at 439 Main St., Suite 2.