CRJ Treatment Diversion Program A Success
The Center for Restorative Justice (CRJ) is touting a truly successful inaugural year for its Treatment Diversion Program after looking at statistics from its first full year of operation. The Program’s main focus is to assist individuals facing a criminal charge and connect them with the help they need to address underlying mental health or substance abuse issues. An individual is offered the opportunity to participate in the Treatment Diversion Program through a referral by the State’s Attorney. Once the referral is made, the State‘s Attorney and Criminal Court agree to place the charge on hold, pending the outcome of the person’s completion of the Program. Participation is voluntary. If a person chooses not to participate, or does not successfully complete the program, their case resumes. If they choose to participate, they work closely with the Program’s coordinator, Kimberly Phillips, and treatment providers. If the criminal charge involves a victim, the individual must engage in a restorative justice process to take responsibility for their wrongdoing and make amends. Once individuals successfully complete the program, the State’s Attorney is notified and charges are dismissed, and they do not have criminal charges on their records.
In its first full year, 70 people facing criminal charges were referred to the program by Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage. Phillips has seen first-hand how grateful people are to be given this opportunity. “One of the best parts of being the case manager for this program,” she says, “is having folks tell me: ‘At first I was mad that I got caught, but then I realized, this probably saved my life … I was grateful that someone stopped me from ruining my life and the life of my family. Now I have a chance to make things right .’”
Cases diverted free up the courts and the likelihood of recidivism is lower when underlying issues are addressed, and while participants are in the program, CRJ is able to help them connect to other services they may need, such as regaining their driver’s license, getting signed up for health insurance, housing and other needs.
CRJ executive director, Leitha Cipriano, expressed optimism for the continued growth of the program, saying “Based on the number of referrals we are getting from the State’s Attorney’s office, we can only expect year two of the program to see an increase in referrals and more people will get connected to needed treatment. I believe the criminal justice system has truly seen the benefit this alternative program can have not only on the courts, but in helping people get the help they really need and get their lives on track.”
CRJ is a nonprofit organization which has served Bennington County for over 35 years providing restorative justice-based solutions for adults and juveniles through a variety of programs. CRJ is located at 439 Main Street, Suite 2, Bennington. For more information, visit bcrj.org.