BRATTLEBORO — Patrick Fleming, a Court Diversion case manager for Youth Services since 1981, was recently honored by the organization for his nearly two decades of restorative justice work in Windham County.
Youth Services' Court Diversion program involves victims, offenders, and community members in a constructive process that helps offenders repair the harm to victims and the community, according to Sally Struble, Youth Services' Director of Restorative Justice programs.
Every year, this one program works with close to 300 referrals.
“Patrick is the glue between our volunteer panelists and the offenders,” Struble said in a news release.
Once the State's Attorney offers diversion to adults charged with committing a crime or youth charged with being delinquent, Fleming meets with both the offender and the volunteer panels to prepare for one or more sessions together.
“Patrick's skill and commitment to the goals of the program make him an outstanding liaison,” Struble said. “Our hope, realized in 90 percent of his cases, is that the offenders not only learn from their mistakes, but they also make different choices in the future.”
After successful completion of the diversion program, the original charge is dismissed, she explained.
“While being charged with a crime is often experienced by the client as a mini-tragedy, more often than not they avail themselves, with the support of the panel, in finding the silver lining,” Fleming said. “In many cases that means re-evaluating their behaviors.”
Fleming said being able to refer them for counseling or substance use treatment as part of their diversion agreement “is very helpful in this process.”
The entire process takes on average between 60-90 days from start to finish, Fleming said.
In an average week, he prepares five distinct panels of trained community volunteers in Brattleboro and one in Bellows Falls. The case manager credits the Diversion Board members, who meet only once a month to hear cases, with possessing a diverse skill set that when combined is like a carefully tuned orchestra.
“I'm in awe of our volunteers. They hit all the notes and I always end up learning from them!” Fleming said.
Fleming described how powerful it is for clients to grapple with what they did and how it impacted others.
“Unlike pleading guilty, paying a fine and getting a record, our participants have to engage with their actions and come to terms with the human elements,” Fleming said.
What keeps Fleming doing this work case after case, year after year?
“I'm interested in people,” he said. “I'm interested in the challenges each case presents. When our participants comprehend that their lives are out of balance and that there is an opportunity to set something right, take responsibility, make this crisis into something positive, we get to witness a truly transformative change for the better.”