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Sunday June 13, 2010

BENNINGTON -- Last summer's parties involving underage drinkers led to an increase in minors having their diversion cases handled by the Center for Restorative Justice (CRJ), said Executive Director Cynthia Cipriano.

She said the CRJ keeps track of the number of people who go through its system, which involves offenders going before a board, explaining what they did, and talking about what they can do to set things right or repair the damage done.

Fiscal years

The numbers are kept per fiscal year, which for CRJ runs from July 1 to June 30. She said while the third quarter of 2010 has not been tallied, it looks to surpass previous years.

In the 2008 fiscal year, the number of offenders process through the Teen Alcohol Safety Program (TASP) was 201. There was a dip in 2009 to 187, but as of March 31 in 2010 there are already 197, Cipriano said.

TASP is a voluntary program youths who face a civil violation from a first-offense of underage drinking participate in. Cipriano said offenders go before a board and talk about the incident that led to them being cited. During that discussion, the person is made to think about the impact of their actions on the community in terms of cost, and are also sent to further screening for other problems if necessary.

She said the offender is asked to come up with a way of giving back to the community, either in terms of a donation to the CRJ's Community Betterment Fund or through community service. Those who are unable to perform community service typically donate $50, but donations from those on diversion from District Court, not TASP, can range up to $300.

Cipriano said that this year $9,500 was given from the fund to ten local groups, with $4,000 being distributed between Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Arlington Memorial High School in Arlington, and Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, for post-graduation substance-free programs. Each school was also given $500 to award a scholarship to a student best exemplifying the spirit of giving back to the community and who has chosen to pursue a career in service to others.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church and the Second Congregational Church also received $500 for letting their space be used by CRJ for its review board hearings. Cipriano said the churches make good, neutral places for the board to meet with offenders.

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The Bennington County Crime Victim's Fund also received $1,500. The fund is to reimburse those who have suffered financial damage from criminal activity.

Two summer camps, held by the Bennington Police Association, the National Guard, and the Bennington County Sheriff's Department were given $1,000.

In addition to underage drinking citations, diversion cases from Family Court and District Court are sometimes sent over by the State's Attorney's Office, Cipriano said. Most of the cases are misdemeanor level, but there are a few felony cases. She said CRJ does not handle domestic assault cases.

She said the CRJ works as an umbrella organization for all of the county's diversion programs, while in other parts of the state, different types of diversion are handled by multiple agencies.

She said the boards that oversee cases number between four and five, but they are from a pool of about 50 volunteers who represent a cross section of the community including business owners and students.

The following is a breakdown of the number of cases the State's Attorney's Office referred to the CRJ during a fiscal year.

* Family Court 2008, 43, 2009, 30, 2010 between July 1 and March 31, 46.

* District Court offenders between ages 16 and 18, 2008, 39, 2009, 33, 2010 between July 1 and March 31, 39.

* District Court offenders 18 years and older, 2008, 111, 2009, 114, 2010 between July 1 and March 31, 105.

Contact Keith Whitcomb at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com.


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