A restorative justice program in Ulster County is being expanded to young adults. The county executive and district attorney say the new initiative builds upon the success of the county’s restorative justice program.
In his proposed 2021 budget unveiled October 1, Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan says there is money for the new program.
“We are, have a pretty significant expansion of what’s been a very successful program, a restorative justice program that is initially focused on young people under 18,” Ryan says. “For the first time in Ulster County, we’ll now fund the expansion of that program to provide restorative justice programs and supports to those young adults age 18-26.”
Ulster County District Attorney Dave Clegg, also a Democrat, describes the restorative justice program.
“This is something where people are held accountable. That’s the starting place. If you’re not accountable for the harm you’ve done, for the wrong you’ve committed, then this process doesn’t work for you But if you are, then the victim, it’s a victim-centered program where they get to decide where justice is, and the community becomes involved, and how do you repair the harm,” Clegg says. “And at the end, the good and really important part of this is that the person who’s committed the harm has the opportunity re-engage in the community in a positive way. So rehabilitation is a bit part of it. Stopping recidivism is a big part of it. Making our community safer is a big part of this, and healing the community at the same time.”
The county’s existing program for youth age 7-17 is called One80 and was established in 2013, at Family of Woodstock and funded by Ulster County.
“We’re going to be very carefully choosing and vetting the cases that we’re going to bring. It’s going to be nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors,” says Clegg. “We will make sure that these cases are followed, monitored and that it’s supported by the community and services out there so that we can repair the harm and rehabilitate at the same time.”
The program uses Restorative Justice Conferences, which are planned face-to-face meetings, known as Circles, between the individuals being referred and those they have directly and indirectly affected. Since the program started in Ulster County, Clegg and Ryan say nearly 300 Restorative Justice Circles have been completed, resulting in a recidivism rate of 6 percent, compared to the national recidivism rate of 40 percent for non-violent offenders.
“What these circles allow you to do is to hear the other side. So, many times, people who commit, offenders who commit these crimes, don’t appreciate the consequences, don’t fully see what, how badly the victim has been harmed by this, don’t see that it continues perhaps for a lifetime,” Clegg says. “This offers the opportunity for the victim to be heard, for, an opportunity for the defendant to understand and then to change, and then to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Clegg joined Ryan October 8 to announce the expanded program.
“To my understanding, we’ll be one of the first, outside really some very forward-leaning larger cities, to do this nationally,” says Ryan.
“That’s right,” says Clegg.
Clegg says the program will be in collaboration with Ulster County Probation and Family of Woodstock.