Letter: CRJ offers alternative in substance abuse cases

To the Editor:

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the need for criminal justice alternatives for people struggling with substance abuse problems. While there is no one magic bullet that can solve a problem as extensive as our region's opioid problem, it is important for the community to know that there is a program run by the Center for Restorative Justice (CRJ) that is helping to make an impact not only on the criminal justice system, but also for individuals struggling with substance abuse issues. CRJ's program is called the Treatment Diversion Program and was created collaboratively with Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage.

CRJ's Treatment Diversion Program's goes well beyond simply addressing an individual's criminal charge, it also focuses on substance abuse problems that may be impacting the individual and their criminal behaviors.

While the program has the same outcome as a traditional Court Diversion Program (charges are dismissed after successful completion), the differences with the Treatment Diversion Program are that a case manager works intensively with the individual to provide a substance abuse and mental health screening, connects the person with a licensed substance abuse clinician, remains in close contact with the person to assure adherence to treatment, remains in regular contact with the substance abuse clinician, and provides other needed wrap-around support services. CRJ's Treatment Diversion Program connects individuals to in-patient as well as out-patient treatment, and connects them to follow-up recovery support, such as that offered through the Turning Point Center.

In addition to helping people get the help they need, another important feature of this program is the impact it is having on the court system. Cases diverted not only free up the courts, the likelihood of recidivism is lower when underlying issues of substance abuse are addressed. Through a restorative justice process, the individual is also held accountable to their victims and community who were harmed or impacted by the criminal behavior. Additionally, while participants are in the program, CRJ is able to help connect individuals with other services they may need, such as regaining their driver's license, signing up for health insurance or connecting them to community services for housing and other needs.

Clearly, this program alone cannot singlehandedly combat the area's opioid problem. But, I am proud to say that CRJ's Treatment Diversion program is providing a unique alternative for the criminal justice system in handling substance abuse cases as well as helping people get the help they need to get their lives on the right track.

Leitha Cipriano,


The writer is executive director of the Bennington Center for Restorative Justice.


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