2017 #Catalyst4Change Award Recipient
Burlington Probation & Parole, Vermont Department of Corrections
In the early 1990’s, public support in Vermont was clouded by comments from a few that the Department of Corrections and the criminal justice system in general was not functioning as well as it could. Aside from jury duty, community members and victims were seldom able to actively participate in the system. Not wanting the perception of a few to overshadow the great work being done, several at the Department of Corrections understood that to truly find a solution they needed to better understand the problem, and obtained a grant to conduct market research.
Results showed the public wanted to play an active role in determining what low-risk offenders were expected to do in terms of probation and furlough type sentences. From that, the Reparative Board Program was born.
The program began in 1996, and consists exclusively of volunteers with one board coordinator for every one and a half counties. Since inception the programs offered free to offenders.
While others from various counties developed the program, Herb Sinkinson of the Burlington Probation and Parole Department saw the potential and decided to get his community involved. Herb worked closely with other stakeholders, probation and parole staff, and community volunteers in Vermont’s Chittenden County (home to over one-quarter of Vermont’s population). From adoption to today Herb and this forward-thinking group has continued to develop and expand the program.
The program emphasizes the need to have offenders take responsibility and hold themselves accountable, and facilitates the guidance of community members to help offenders make amends for the harm caused to victims and the community. The program also helps offenders take accountability.
The Board In Action
The board helps offenders identify an equitable course of action, with actions designed to be completed within 90 days from the first meeting with the board. Victims receive sincere apology letters and in-person apologies, along with restitution. Additionally, offenders in the program regularly volunteer to work for their victims to make amends. In some cases, offenders pay more restitution and provide additional hours of community work service beyond what was required. Offenders have even been hired by the community work service site because of the high level at which they performed their community service.
In one case an offender with a public works engineering degree came up with a master plan for a road that repeatedly washed out every spring time. The result was the road no longer washed out. The local road commissioner wrote a letter to the offender’s officer stating that this individual saved his town $10,000 in engineering fees (all done as part of his community work service).
Public perception and direct feedback from the victims and community agencies has been extremely positive. And, more importantly, offenders who have successfully completed the program have made important changes in their behavior and have developed prosocial lifestyles.
The program has been the subject of research conducted by three professors. Through research the professors determined that the board program results a 23% lower recidivism rate in comparison with those who did not go through the program.
The only state-wide program of its kind, those involved with the Reparative Board Program in Vermont believe the innovative program has helped to significantly change lives as well as positively impact the overall community paradigm.