BRAVO brings restorative justice to Brandon


Restorative Justice is a growing movement which offers some offenders and the community an alternative path to the criminal justice system.  In the court system, the focus is on adjudicating guilt or innocence and punishing offenders.  By contrast, the restorative-justice model seeks to identify the harms caused by wrongdoing—to individuals and to the community—and to put right those harms as best as possible.  

Restorative justice is not something new—it has been practiced around the world and by indigenous communities here for as long as anyone can remember.  And at its best, our American criminal-justice system can function much like a restorative-justice system.  Nowadays, the courts often require restitution and pay much greater concern to the victims of crime.  But the court system can be impersonal and slow, and its emphasis on determining guilt and punishing the wrongdoer can neglect the real needs of victims and the community.  Often, as well, the genuine needs of the offender are overlooked, which may only set the stage for further wrongdoing.

BRAVO (Brandon Restorative Action for Victims and Offenders) was founded a number of years ago by Art Doty, Lance Mead, and Debbie Boyce.  Currently, BRAVO consists of a small group of volunteers trained to participate in a restorative-justice panel.  The Brandon Chief of Police, David Kachajian, may refer appropriate cases by contacting the BRAVO Coordinator. The coordinator then contacts all the involved parties and assembles a panel of available volunteers to meet at a convenient time and location.  

Three panel members then meet with offenders, harmed parties, representatives of the community, and with parents or guardians of juvenile offenders.  Together, they create a plan to addresses the harm done, the needs of parties harmed, and the needs of the community at large.  The offender’s participation is entirely voluntary; indeed, to participate the offender must accept responsibility for his or her actions. Restorative-justice plans often involve restitution, letters of apology, and community service.  The process of listening, discussing the harms done, and crafting a fitting outcome can be healing for the people involved. 

In a recent case (facts changed somewhat to protect confidentiality), a student had set off a fire extinguisher inside the high school.  This caused damage to parts of the building but also interrupted student programing.  It also required teachers, administrators, and custodians to expend time and effort rectifying the situation.  While the cost of the cleanup may have been covered by insurance, the disruption to normal programing and the stress and effort required to bring things back to “normal” caused real harm to numerous individuals.  By bringing everyone together in a restorative-justice panel, the responsible party was able to understand the consequences of their actions and the real harm this caused to other people.  It was no longer just a “joke” or “prank.”  And the people affected were able to “vent” their frustrations and annoyance in a receptive setting.  A restorative-justice plan would involve the responsible party “owning” the situation, giving heart-felt apologies to the teachers, staff, and students affected, and performing community service with the school’s custodial service to an extent that would correlate with the time and effort needed for the cleanup—since the actual cleanup had to be done professionally.  

The restorative-justice process in Brandon is similar to the county diversion program but happens even earlier in the progress of a case.  In a diversion case, formal charges are filed and the offender is summoned to go to court for arraignment.  The county prosecutor then offers the accused the choice of diversion before a judge has found grounds for the case to continue.  That way, if the offender completes diversion, he or she will avoid any formal court record.  With the BRAVO process, Brandon’s police chief—in consultation with the county prosecuting attorney—will refer the matter for restorative justice before filing formal charges.  This means that the parties do not have to travel to Rutland at all, and the matter can be resolved “closer to home,” more quickly, and with whatever local insight or wisdom that might be appropriate.  

The cases suitable for restorative justice in Brandon are typically minor property offenses: theft, bad checks, vandalism, malicious mischief, and the like.   BRAVO does not handle cases involving personal violence, abuse, or felony-level theft.  Thus, the number of cases appropriate for referral to BRAVO can vary widely from year to year, and recently BRAVO has handled only a few cases.  Panel members have kept busy attending training approved by the Vermont Department of Corrections and making connections with other restorative justice organizations in the state.  BRAVO is now collaborating with Rutland County’s restorative justice (diversion) panel and some members are now sitting on panels in Rutland. 

The BRAVO volunteers believe that they help to support a safe community by listening to and addressing the needs of victims, offenders, and the community at the earliest possible time.  If you are interested in participating in BRAVO’s work, please consider joining.  For more information, please see

Mitch Pearl is the current chair of the BRAVO Advisory Board.  He acknowledges the contributions to this article from other members of the panel. 

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