BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Community Justice Center and the Restorative Justice programs at Youth Services are joining forces.
By creating one program under one roof, both organizations say they are creating more streamlined and intuitive approaches to a variety of programs that have one common thread: resolving conflicts small and large, from resolving neighborhood disputes to finding real justice for victims while helping perpetrators avoid the criminal justice system.
“We think it's the sensible choice to have all the restorative justice programs under one roof and make it easier for the community, and we're thrilled because it's going to increase our ability to do even more,” says BCJC Executive Director Mel Motel, who will co-direct the new hybrid program with Russell Bradbury-Carlin, executive director of Youth Services.
Community Justice is moving on July 15 to join Youth Services at 32 Walnut St.
Motel noted that a Commons reporter was “about the millionth person” to have been somewhat confused by the various roles of each agency and how they interface.
“It is confusing because it's not simply that Youth Services works with youth and we work with adults and et cetera,” Motel says. “It's actually quite a patchwork.”
“We want one stop, all under one roof, so when someone is looking to solve a problem with a neighbor, they can call one place,” she adds. “And when the state's attorney is trying to send a case to a restorative justice program, we want them to know there's one place.”
Effectively shifting restorative justice programs in the region under one administrative umbrella and roof - a move long considered by both organizations and heartily endorsed by other community partners - has anecdotally worked well elsewhere in the state.
“What we hear from other merged restorative justice programs around is positive,” Motel says.
“We can, someday, walk someone down the hallway to a different office if there's a need for that person to see someone else,” she says. “We hear that to help people get from one program to another and meet their needs in one place has been really wonderful, and we're looking forward to that.”
“I think what's important to me is this is the sensible choice,” says Motel. “There's confusion in our community, and having all under one roof is important.”
“And we can do more together than alone,” she continues. “Over the last year, people have become more interested in restorative justice, racial uprising, and emphasis on mutual aid during the pandemic.”
“I have felt that as a small organization with limited ability wasn't large enough to do what this community needs and merging will allow us to do more. Conflicts around racial justice issues, conflicts between neighbors - it's sensible and it feels very visionary to me.”
She also appreciates the 50 to 60 volunteers who help both agencies who will now be working from the same hub.
“I want to underscore how important it is to not only have a staff, but another huge group of people with skills who show up for this work and make it happen,” Motel says. “We really appreciate that, too.”
Who they are, what they do
The Brattleboro Community Justice Center, with three staff members and an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, engages with community members to “repair harm caused by conflict and crime.”
The Center provides trainings in schools and neighborhoods, offers mediation around community conflicts, facilitates restorative interventions with individuals involved in the criminal legal system, and works with individuals returning to the community after incarceration.
The Restorative Justice program has been around since 2003, offering a variety of restorative justice approaches to conflict in the community which range from working with schools to helping students and teachers resolve conflict to working with formerly incarcerated people to support their transitions back to their community.
Youth Services, with a staff of 21 and an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, has a long and impactful history of serving young people and families living in all kinds of difficult circumstances in Windham County.
Since its inception in 1972, nearly 49 years ago, Youth Services has been, and continues to be, a community innovator. As such, it was one of the first organizations in the state to embrace Court Diversion 40 years ago as a way to help youth repair the harm and address underlying conditions that lead to crimes.
In time, Youth Services was asked by the Windham County State's Attorney office to apply this successful approach to adults in the community. More recently, adults also benefit from its pre-trial services and a program to reinstate drivers' licenses under specific circumstances.
Expansion in the last decade also occurred in restorative justice programs for youth, according to Sally Struble, director of restorative justice programs at Youth Services.
Added in the last decade is a Youth Substance Awareness Safety Program and the Balanced and Restorative Justice program, which seeks to reduce and eliminate further involvement in the juvenile justice system and improve school attendance.
Struble confirmed that all programs in each organization will continue after the merger and underscored the two organizations have a long history of collaborating, “striving to develop a seamless experience for the community that uses their restorative justice services.”
“I'm extremely excited,” says Youth Services Executive Director Russell Bradbury-Carlin. “I've always been a proponent and was pleased to learn the state funds and supports an array of programming.”
The Youth Services restorative justice program is funded through the attorney general's office and the others through the Department of Corrections, which the Brattleboro Community Justice program was running, “so there were already models for that to be under one roof,” he notes.
“It makes sense for it to be under one roof. It makes the services run better for everyone,” Bradbury-Carlin says.
Like Motel, he is also excited that both agencies can now better “move beyond to offer community programs.”
“This gives us more flexibility and resources,” he says. “For instance, helping community service agencies or businesses to include restorative justice work.”
One example: Groundworks Collaborative, which provides supportive housing programs, is building restorative justice programs into its model to reduce conflicts among folks living in two motels adapted into small units for people transitioning from homelessness.
“Or if there are conflicts between business owners downtown, we would love it if folks would know this is a situation where they could call and we would provide assistance and mediation,” Bradbury-Carlin says.
Most Youth Services programs work with people who are charged with low-level offenses, depending on the situation.
“Restorative justice programming in the state really tries to offer alternatives with support and guidance so as not to get pulled deeper into the criminal justice system, to give alternatives to youth so they don't build a record, to circumvent people early on in that process,” says Bradbury-Carlin.
He explains that the group's court diversion program offers a community panel and the chance for a person “to take accountability and make amends in some way.”
The program started as a juvenile diversion program 40 years ago but was expanded to include adults, as it had been so successful.
“Actually, we serve more adults in diversion than juveniles these days,” Bradbury-Carlin says.