Vermont Law School Launches Center for Justice Reform | Off Message

Vermont Law School Launches Center for Justice Reform


Vermont Law School - BEN DEFLORIO
  • Ben Deflorio
  • Vermont Law School
Vermont Law School announced Thursday that it will offer a master's degree in restorative justice as part of a new Center for Justice Reform it is opening.

The three-semester program, which will cater to both law students looking for dual degrees and standalone students, is expected to have about 15 pupils when it launches in the fall of 2018, and could grow to around 30, said the center's director, Robert Sand.

"People will learn about a new way to think about harm and conflict," said Sand, a former Windsor County state's attorney. "Instead of thinking about crime as a violation against the state or larger entity, our students will come to understand the relationship nature of crime and ask, who has been affected? How can they have a meaningful voice in shaping the outcome? What obligations does the individual owe who has created the harm, and how can we build a response that ... leads to healing instead of punishment?"

The master's program will include classes at the VLS campus and significant online learning opportunities, Sand said. Course offerings will cover mass incarceration and examining race in the criminal justice system.

VLS, which is best known for its environmental law program, is the first law school in the country to offer such a program, Sand said.

The center will include an expungement clinic where students will work with practicing attorneys to help people exercise their legal right to have their records wiped clean. Sand said he hopes to launch that initiative in coordination with the Chittenden County State's Attorney's Office.

Eventually, Sand said, the center could grow into a think tank, churning out position papers and hosting guest lecturers devoted to upending traditional criminal justice approaches.

As a prosecutor, Sand was an early advocate of marijuana decriminalization. He often testifies in the Statehouse on behalf of reform initiatives.

The move comes at a time when VLS, like many law schools, is struggling with budgetary problems tied to declining enrollment.