VLS lands $3M grant for national restorative justice center

Sen. Leahy and VLS Dean Thomas McHenry (at right) meet in February. Photo via McHenry on Instagram.

By Michelle Amidzich, News Editor

Vermont Law School will receive a $3 million grant to establish the first National Center on Restorative Justice, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy announced Tuesday.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Justice, and it took Leahy several years to secure the funding.

The Center will be based in South Royalton and is a collaboration with the University of Vermont, the University of San Diego, the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, and several other partners. The Center will work with criminal justice professionals, educators, social service providers, and community members to broaden their understanding of restorative justice and help break the cycle of violence.

Restorative justice repairs the harm caused by crime. According to the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, “It emphasizes accountability, making amends, and — if they are interested — facilitated meetings between victims, offenders, and other persons.”

Leahy is a leading member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been a leader on criminal justice reform. He said the nation needs to fundamentally rethink the approach to the justice system to address the problem of mass incarceration in the United States. The Center will “be a generator of workable solutions, and a catalyst for real change,” Leahy said.

“This grant demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Justice to research and support newly forming attitudes about punishment in the United States and the value of community-based resolutions to crime­,” said Prof. Robert Sand, founder of the Center for Justice Reform at VLS and former Windsor County prosecutor.

VLS is the only law school in the country that offers a master’s degree in restorative justice. The master’s degree focuses on developing new ways to look at conflict and conflict avoidance. The degree brings together students with fresh ideas and fosters development to articulate change needed in the law and restorative justice. Some of the classes include “New Approaches in Domestic and Sexual Violence” and “Origins, Evolution, and Critical Issues in Restorative Justice.”

“Vermont is an incubator of sound ideas, and the approaches to restorative justice education and training at Vermont Law School and the University of Vermont make this a fitting collaboration to host this new, national center,” Leahy said in a press release.

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