|The Vermont Department of Corrections Reparative Probation Program began in 1995. In 1999, the program received the Ford Foundation's Innovations in Government Award. Since its inception literally hundreds of community board programs have been launched across the country (Bazemore et al. 2001), including boards for juvenile offenders administered by the Vermont Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. Although several evaluations of restorative justice programs have been published in the U.S. and abroad, this is the first formal independent evaluation of outcomes of a probation-based community board model and of Vermont reparative probation in particular.
Reparative probation can be summarized as follows. Upon conviction of a minor offense, burglary or drunk driving for example, the judge will sentence the offender to probation with the condition that he or she appears before a local reparative board. A board composed of trained citizen volunteers convenes with the offender and attempts to work out a solution to the problem created by the offense. Victims and other affected parties (such as parents of a youthful offender) are invited to attend. Board meetings vary in length, but average between 35-40 minutes. The outcome of the meeting is a negotiated agreement, signed by the offender, specifying a set of tasks to be accomplished during a 90-day probationary period. Typically, offenders will return to the board for a mid-term review and a final closure meeting before discharge. Offenders who fail to comply are in violation of probation and returned to the court.
The board members seek to accomplish four goals with the offender. First, they wish to engage the offender in tasks that will help him or her better understand the harmful consequences of the crime on victims and the community. This may entail asking the offender to listen to the victim's account or to the reactions of victims of similar offenses. It may mean asking the offender to write an essay describing the harm that was done. Second, the board seeks to identify ways the offender can repair the harm to victims. Third, they try to engage the offender in making amends to the community. Restitution to the victim, community service, and letters of apology may be required. Fourth, the board works with the offender to find a strategy to reduce the likelihood of re-offending. This might include a wide variety of educational and counseling opportunities.
The typical board meeting is held in an informal conference room in a town hall, public library, or probation office. Boards vary in their formality, but all are much less formal than the courtroom setting. Meetings begin with introductions, proceed through a general review of the incident, and become task-oriented as they strategize over terms of the agreement. Some boards ask the offender to leave the meeting so that board members can have a short period of private deliberation. Lengthier descriptions of program features can be found in Dooley (1996); Karp (2002); Karp and Walther (2001); Perry and Gorczyk (1997); and Walther and Perry (1997).
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