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Grant allows Vermont Law School to start restorative justice center

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/5/2020 9:02:00 PM
Modified: 4/5/2020 9:01:56 PM

SOUTH ROYALTON — A new $3 million federal grant will allow Vermont Law School to establish a national center examining ways to advance restorative justice education.

Called the National Center on Restorative Justice, the program will be the first of its kind in the country. It’s headed up by VLS in collaboration with the University of Vermont, the University of San Diego and the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs which funded the grant, according to a release from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“The ultimate goal is to help change criminal justice policy in this country,” said Bobby Sand, former Windsor County State’s attorney and founder of VLS’ Center for Justice Reform.

He said is not yet sure whether the new center will be combined with the law school’s existing program or whether they will operate separately.

Sand, who helped write the grant application, defined restorative justice as a practice that takes a “relational approach to harm.”

One example is Timothy LaPlante, a 32-year-old Chelsea man who was accused of shooting his neighbor’s computer tablet last year. He was referred to the Orange County Restorative Justice Program, which allowed him to take responsibility, address factors that contributed to the crime and pay a fine in lieu of criminal charges. A representative for the program declined to comment on whether he had completed it Friday.

“Instead of focusing on rules and law and advantage and punishment, restorative justice asks who’s been harmed, how can they have a meaningful voice in shaping response to harm, who caused harm, what obligations they have,” Sand said.

With the grant money, VLS will work on evaluating how restorative justice is taught on a graduate level, and what improvements there could be.

The school also will partner with the Community College of Vermont in Winooski to look at how people who are not incarcerated but are in drug or mental health court can work on getting a secondary education, Sand said. Faculty and researchers at VLS and CCV will meet via video chat over the next few months to discuss how that partnership will work.

UVM will use the grant to further other aspects of restorative justice, such as expanding its Liberal Arts in Prison Program, which helps inmates get a secondary education while they’re incarcerated, Sand said. Other professors at UVM will research the curriculum surrounding restorative justice education.

“We’re getting funded to enhance educational opportunity,” Sand said. “What should graduate education in restorative justice look like? We’re able to analyze that and assess that and develop a curriculum.”

“The award of this grant recognizes the groundbreaking work being done at Vermont Law School — the only law school in the country that awards a master’s degree in restorative justice — and the opportunity to share this expertise nationally,” said VLS Dean and President Thomas McHenry.

Sand said VLS is still figuring out what the next steps will be for the center — especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — but he expects the school will start making some hires within the next few months and hopes to start the center this summer.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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