Community justice program breaks cycle of incarceration

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(Host) Backers of a Lamoille County program to keep high-risk children from ending up in jail say the program is working. They say if lawmakers continue to fund their effort, it could provide a model for other areas of the state.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Seeing his father sent to prison two and a half years ago had a profound affect on 15-year-old Anthony.

(Anthony) “I was mad at him and scared. He broke a lot of promises.”

(Zind) Anthony came to the State House Thursday to talk about how the Lamoille Valley Community Justice Project has helped him. His mother, Mary, agrees. She says her son’s anger was out of control. She was convinced the state would eventually take custody of her children.

(Mary) “Anthony would punch the walls so hard that the furnace would stop working, and just yelling and screaming and getting kicked off the school bus.”

(Zind) Nationally up to 50 percent of boys with a parent in jail end up in the criminal justice system. Two years ago people in the Lamoille Valley put that figure together with the fact that Lamoille County’s delinquency rate is a third higher than the state average, and formed the Lamoille Valley Community Justice Project.

Of the families the project is currently working with, all of the fathers are or have been in the criminal justice system. All of the fathers have substance abuse problems, and each of the families has experienced domestic violence.

Director Carol Maloney says the project’s caseworkers go into homes to cook meals, establish routines and help restore order to chaotic households.

(Maloney) “As simple as getting up in the morning at a regular time and demonstrating for the families, modeling, breakfast time and getting ready for school.”

(Zind) Maloney says caseworkers also help families access other services. Anthony says counseling has taught him to manage his anger. Once he was failing in school. Now he’s proud of his grades.

(Anthony) “My lowest grade is a 72 and my highest is a hundred.”

(Zind) An evaluation by University of Vermont researchers indicates that of the 67 children who have been involved with the Community Justice Project two have had run-ins with the criminal justice system. Since the project is only two years old, it’s hard to tell what the long range impact will be.

Project supporters hope lawmakers will continue to fund the program. They argue their effort will save money in the long run by keeping young Vermonters out of a costly criminal justice system.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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