The interim executive director of Rutland County Restorative Justice Center is hoping to maintain the work the nonprofit agency has done for decades of holding people responsible for the crimes they commit while providing some balance for victims and the community.
Mikayla Shaw, interim executive director for the agency often called CRJ, said there are different programs available for people of all ages.
“I think a common misunderstanding of what we do is that we ‘let people off.’ That’s not at all what we do. We require people in our programs to take responsibility for whatever happened. Doesn’t mean that that’s an admission of guilt should it go back to court but for our purposes, they have to say, ‘I take responsibility for what I did and for the harm that I’ve caused and I’m willing to take steps to fix that as best we can and make sure it doesn’t happen again.’ That’s really the goal of our program,” Shaw said.
Participants in the program have generally been charged with a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.
A volunteer board works with CRJ staff and the victim or victims of the crime, if the victims want to participate, to create a restoration plan. The offender, who must agree to work with CRJ and can’t be ordered into their programs, will enter into a contract with CRJ so he or she knows the expectations. The contract is created to keep the offender out of further legal trouble, to restore the victims or the community and to address any underlying issues that could have contributed to the offender being charged.
“We try to make sure they get whatever help or support they need while also addressing the reason they’re here. A lot of times, we have people in here from court as sort of an alternative to the traditional legal system and we work with them to address whatever harm they might have caused during their action, whatever that might be,” she said.
In the last fiscal year, CRJ, programs like Diversion and Tamarack, which is specifically for offenders with mental health and substance abuse issues, provides an alternative to the criminal courts for more than 30 percent of the misdemeanor cases in Rutland criminal court. During the 2018 fiscal year, CRJ collected more than $16,000 in restitution for victims.
CRJ participants have also contributed many hours of service to area nonprofits.
Offenders must be referred to CRJ and CRJ staff must agree to take on the participant. Shaw said people who have actively participated in the past may be accepted to go through it again but said that decision is made on a case by case basis.
Sam Worden, Diversion case manager and back-up pretrial service coordinator, said the Rutland CRJ relies heavily on volunteers, some of whom serve on the panel that helps create a participant’s contract.
Shaw said the two requests she hears most often from victims is reparations for any loss they may have suffered and an apology letter that shows the offender is “actually truly sorry for what happened.
Participation can take months in some cases, especially those going through Tamarack, so it’s important the contract serve the participant’s needs to prevent recidivism and so the participant is not being set up for failure by having requirements they can’t meet.
Shaw, who has been interim director since August, has been with CRJ for more than three years.
Worden pointed out Shaw has worked at every position and in every program at CRJ.
She came to CRJ as a Castleton University student studying forensic psychology and an employee at Rutland Mental Health. She said the position at CRJ is her “perfect fit of how (she) can work with people who are involved in the legal system but still help people connect with treatment and get the services they need.”
Worden said she was also drawn to CRJ because it allows her to help people in several ways.
“We can help with housing, with food, with connecting them to mental health services or substance use services. It makes a difference in their lives. I have participants who I’ve worked with who like to keep me updated after their case is closed just to tell me how their life is going and how they’re being successful. It’s nice to hear,” she said.
CRJ in Rutland is funded by various state contracts but this year, they will receive additional support through a blues concert by Grammy-nominated musician Guy Davis at the Rutland Moose Club on Oct. 25. Tickets for the show are $20.
In Rutland County, CRJ is not available for those accused of any kind of domestic violence or those accused of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Shaw said CRJ was formed in 1982 and the Rutland County office was part of the original pilot program that now includes a CRJ office in every county.
Those interested in volunteering for CRJ should contact the agency which has its Rutland office on Center Street. More information about the program is available on the internet at rutlandrestorativejustice.org