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Attitudes Towards Crime and Punishment in Vermont: Public Opinion About an Experiment With Restorative Justice

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2000
119 pages
This study updates the 1994 benchmark study of public opinion about crime and corrections in Vermont by determining if there have been any changes in Vermonters' thinking since the introduction of reparative boards, which give citizens decision making authority about punishment and supervision issues that directly affect the offender, the victim, and community safety.
The 1994 study found that Vermonters' had low public confidence in virtually the entire criminal justice system. Ninety-four percent favored a concept that the Department of Corrections had on the "drawing board," i.e., the establishing of a statewide network of community-based reparative boards. By May 1999, 44 reparative boards composed of over 300 citizen volunteers had been established throughout Vermont. To date, these boards have handled more than 3,000 cases. Upon conviction and referral by a judge, offenders must meet with their local reparative board to review their offense and learn how it harmed the community; they must then accept the terms of what is usually a multifaceted, community-based sanction. The current study used field visits; 4 focus groups; 25 in-depth interviews with reparative board members, crime victims, and offenders; and a 25-minute telephone survey of 601 randomly selected Vermonters. Findings show that Vermonters have more confidence in the criminal justice system than they did in 1994. In three cases, the public's assessment improved by a statistically significant margin of seven percentage points. Still, Vermonters' assessment of the job being done by the criminal justice system remains mixed, with 46 percent saying the system does a good job and 51 percent saying its performance is no better than fair. 68 tables and 21 literature-review references

Date Published: March 1, 2000