Bringing Justice Back into the Community: The Case of Vermont, US
There is a fine line between aiming to make individuals responsible for their actions and actually doing so. Society developed many mechanisms that although aim at making individuals responsible, in reality they end up making decisions for the individuals or instead of the individuals. Two examples of such mechanisms are the criminal sanctions used by justice systems, and the substantiations of child neglect and abuse used by child protection systems. These mechanisms are bound to backfire if the individuals that have done the harm aren’t straightforwardly challenged regarding the consequences of their actions by people that are relevant and close to them, such as family or community members. This is due to the fact that what is asked from them comes from insignificant outsiders (like a court or a human service agency), and not from meaningful insiders (like the person that has been harmed, the family or the close community), and thus the harm doer’s acknowledgment of responsibility is neutralized. In so many fields and for so many years it has been empirically proven that participatory approaches are more effective in increasing the acknowledgment of responsibility. This is also the case of the State of Vermont, which went through important reforms in the criminal justice and child protection systems in the past 25 years in order to bring justice back into the community. This has been done in the criminal justice arena by applying the reciprocity principle and using more community-based and restorative approaches. In child protection the trigger for reform was the deliberate introduction of family engagement approaches, including family group conferences. The State of Vermont is a clear case in which participation of all stakeholders into the justice process is seen as a human right incorporated into the legislature and implemented into practice. The paper analyses these shifts by using qualitative data collected in the period of April-July 2015 from interviews with professionals working in the criminal justice system and in child protection services across the State of Vermont, as well as from non-participatory observations of community-based and restorative justice practices. The research project was financed via the Fulbright Senior Scholar Award scheme and was conducted under affiliation with the University of Vermont.
Data gathering was conducted in the period April-July 2016 under affiliation with the University of Vermont, College of Education and Social Sciences. Ethical approval for conducting the research was granted by the Committee on Human Research in the Behavioral and Social Sciences of the University of Vermont on 18th March 2015, CHRBSS code 15-362.
Citation : Szabo, A. (2016). Bringing Justice Back into the Community: The Case of Vermont, US. Presentation at the 9th international conference of the EFRJ, Realising Restorative Justice: Human Rights and Personal Realities. Leiden, Netherlands, 24th June 2016. Available at: http://www.euforumrj.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/A028-Szabo.pdf
Peer Reviewed : No