By Michelle Amidzich, News Editor
On Feb. 2, 2021, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced a second $3 million grant for the National Center on Restorative Justice (NCRJ) based at Vermont Law School (VLS).
The NCRJ received its first grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in conjunction with Sen. Leahy’s efforts in the spring of 2020, which helped launch what has been a several-year effort to establish and fund the Center.
The NCRJ works in partnership with the University of Vermont (UVM), the University of San Diego (USD), and the U.S. Office of Justice Programs (OJP) to provide education, training, and research to advance restorative justice. Restorative justice is an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system’s incarceration methods.
The second grant will help the NCRJ broaden its education, training, and several other projects. Some of the trainings include opportunities for professional development in law enforcement, social work, and criminal justice.
Stephanie Clark, director of the NCRJ and an assistant VLS professor said, “The additional funding will also allow us to create and offer ‘community academies’ which will initially be offered in Vermont, but with replicable models to be offered in communities nationally. These community academies will be tailored to specific local wants and needs, and inviting all voices and persons impacted by those local wants and needs.”
Clark also explained that the grant allows the NCRJ to partner with the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice, which has the largest practitioner membership in the United States. The Association’s purpose is to provide “a support system for educators, practitioners and others interested in resorptive and community justice.” The NCRJ plans to collaborate and learn from the Association about approaches in restorative justice.
Beth McCormack, interim president and dean, said in a press release that “This grant is great news for Vermont Law School, its partner organizations and anyone who believes that we can do better than a criminal justice system that is rife with racial, economic, and geographic inequalities, destroys too many families and costs too much.”
The National Institute of Corrections within the DOJ cited in a 2016 study that the economic burden of incarceration in the U.S. costs about $80 billion annually. However, the study states that the figure underestimates true incarceration costs because it does not factor in “important social costs.”
Social costs generally include the financial burden on families, children, and communities. The study states, “For every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional ten dollars in social costs.”
Clark said the additional funding allows the NCRJ to offer “community academies,” which will be specific to “local wants and needs, and inviting all voices and persons impacted . . .” Clark said it is important for communities to identify what is important to them because it will help them come together to facilitate a restorative approach.
“It’s about bringing people together to build relationships and communicate in a structured way. There is tremendous hope in restorative justice, and part of its gift is its adaptability,” Clark said.