We affirm that the community bears responsibility for the re-integration of offenders and the restoration of victims. Although judicial and correctional systems have assumed this responsibility historically, we believe that it is essential to the life of the community that it reclaims its role in dealing with criminal conflict, with victims and offenders.
– Mennonite Central Committee Community Justice Ministries , Canada
The Brattleboro Community Justice Center is committed to helping improve the reentry process of serious offenders returning to our community after being incarcerated. In partnership with the Vermont Department of Corrections, and area service providers, we have developed this program in an effort to improve the process and reduce the known barriers to successful reentry.
The purpose of the Brattleboro Restorative Reentry Program is to engage the community in repairing the relationships that are damaged by criminal behavior. The specific relationships are between:
- The victim and the community;
- The person who has committed the crime (the “Core Member”), and the Community; and
- The Core Member and the victim.
In order to resolve the harm done, all three relationships must be addressed. The program supports the successful transition of Core Members into the community and speaks to the fears and concerns of victims and the community. The Project involves volunteer community members who serve on the Community Advisory Panel (CAP), or, who form support groups called Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) with individuals who are re-entering the community on conditional release (under the Department of Corrections supervision). The participation of the Core Member is voluntary.
Aspects that drive this program are:
- Increasing community safety
- Reducing recidivism
- Planning and supporting successful reintegration
Who is eligible?
The Restorative Reentry Program works with individuals referred by the Department of Corrections, who have been convicted of a felony, and are serving at least a six month sentence. Furthermore, they must be returning to the Brattleboro area on Conditional Release, (furlough), be 18 years or older and agree to explore and acknowledge the impact of their past behavior on family, community, victim(s) and themselves.
A Reentry plan created by the incarcerated individual, the BCJC Director, and a Parole Officer will address:
- Barriers to reentry by linking the Core Member to resources for housing, employment, transportation, mental health, substance abuse and medical services and entitlement benefits
- Victim needs and community safety
- Expectations for future discussions of responsibility and accountability
Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA)
COSAs are the center of the Restorative reentry Program. Comprised of 3 to 5 trained community volunteers, the COSA meets with Core members at the facility and then once they have reentered the community. The goals of the COSA are:
- Support successful reintegration
- Enhance community safety
- Hold the core members accountable for fulfilling the Reentry Plan.
- Support core members to understand and address who has been
affected by past criminal behavior and how.
Specifically, the COSA assists the Core Member to meet the challenges of everyday living, i.e., doing laundry, transportation, budgeting, shopping, cooking, and preparing for a job interview. The COSA also works with the Core Member to identify triggers that might lead to reoffending and together create a Relapse Prevention Plan. Finally, the COSA helps the Core Member determine how to make amends to those impacted by her/his past behavior.
The Community Advisory Panel (CAP)
The CAP is a group of three or four community member volunteers who convene once a month, or less frequently as needed, to screen and review Restorative Reentry Plans and progress. In addition to the CAP members, the Probation Officer and the Justice Center Director attend to present and explain Reentry Plans. The CAP gives input, feedback, raises questions, and concerns. Victim and/or victim advocate input is strongly encouraged and sought to inform the plans. The PO and Director, incorporating recommendations of the CAP, finalize Reentry plans. The Justice Center provides training for CAP members and can facilitate the meetings.
One overarching goal is meaningful dialogue between the community, corrections professionals, victim or victim advocates and offenders (Core members). The participants engage in connecting on a human level, as fellow community members engaged in meaningful dialogue. This requires individuals to bring their authentic, non-judgmental curiosity and active listening skills to the meetings.