Community Justice Board shifting shape

Funding increase paves way for new transition efforts

Oct. 6, 2011

By Adam White

Observer staff

Steve LaTulippe, director of the Williston Community Justice Board, believes that a proactive approach is best suited for helping recently released prisoners transition back into life within the town. He said that 11 currently incarcerated prisoners could face that situation in the near future. (Observer photo by Adam White)

Williston comprises 30 square miles of land.

But it can be overwhelming to someone just released from a four-walled world.

The transition from prison life back into a community will be made easier for Willistonians by the town’s Community Justice Board. Made up of 16 volunteers under the guidance of director Steve LaTulippe, the CJB recently saw its funding nearly double thanks to an increased deflection grant, and is eyeing a transition into a full-fledged Community Justice Center.

That transition would result in the CJB growing beyond its current reparative functions into helping released prisoners transition back into Williston society, according to LaTulippe. He said the grant increase from $19,000 to $34,000 and the implementation of a Circle of Support and Accountability (COSA) model will result in the CJB taking a “more proactive role” in the transition process.

“It might be as simple, in the first year, as a navigational program,” LaTulippe told the Williston Selectboard on Sept. 26, adding that the CJB would help coordinate services like transportation and housing for released prisoners. “That may be our role initially … until we can somehow increase our numbers.”

The town’s bylaws state that the Board should comprise between 16 and 20 members. Though the CJB currently sits at the lower end of that spectrum, longtime member Adina Panitch said the Board is likely to expand once the COSA model is fully implemented.

“As we expand into a Community Justice Center, it sounds like we will each need to make individual decisions about whether we can contribute more of our time and effort,” Panitch said. “Many people on the Board probably cannot, due to other commitments — so (the CJB) may have to get bigger.”

LaTulippe said that “when you have a COSA model, all the models out there show an average of 15 to 20 hours per week for a single offender.” He added that adopting that model with the current CJB structure would require at least some members to “work all day.”

The CJB’s current mission is to work with the town’s police department, the Vermont Department of Corrections, pre-charge and court referrals toward three goals: the assessment of the impact of specific crimes on victims, the identification of ways offenders can repair damage caused by their criminal actions, and ways to increase an offender’s sense of belonging to the community to help prevent repeat criminal acts by the offender.

The Board handles an average of 90 cases per year, though it has already taken on 84 cases since January of this year. LaTulippe said the number of people currently under probational control in Williston is 53, and that 11 town residents who are currently incarcerated will be released in the near future.

“You hear about cases all the time where people return to a community (from prison) with a lot of loose ends, needing support,” Panitch said.

But LaTulippe said finding released prisoners with transitional needs isn’t always enough to make such a program successful.

“Part of the challenge in this is getting offenders to buy into the services that you’re offering,” LaTullipe said, adding that not all of the released prisoners will return to Williston just because they are natives of the town.

In addition to its duties with reparation and transition assistance, the CJB also involves itself with conflict resolution and educational outreach efforts, according to LaTulippe. He said the diverse make-up of the Board lends itself well to that array of challenges.

“We have lawyers on the Board, trained mediators (and) counselors,” LaTulippe said. “It’s a collection of great talent and knowledge, and the people pull so well together. That’s what makes the Board so spectacular to deal with.”