Vermont Law School will receive a $3 million federal grant for its National Center on Restorative Justice, an initiative focused on providing training and advocating for criminal justice reform, Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) office announced Tuesday.
The center, a collaboration with the University of Vermont, the University of San Diego and the U.S. Department of Justice, is intended to become a hub for research and training in restorative justice practices, which emphasize direct reconciliation with victims and repairing the relationships between offenders and their communities.
Last spring, the center launched with a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Leahy, who is now chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has championed the project and played a key role in securing both rounds of funding.
As Vermont Law School grapples with lagging enrollment and financial woes exacerbated by the pandemic, the grants represent a significant investment. “There's definitely a social justice mission that is part of Vermont Law School, and this is really giving focus to that and building it out,” said Stephanie Clark, director of the center.
It’s still unclear how the center will be integrated into Vermont Law School’s existing offerings, which include the country’s only law school master’s degree in restorative justice. This summer, the center will host a virtual think tank for educators, social workers and law enforcement personnel.
The ultimate goal, said Clark, is to make the principles of restorative justice accessible to people throughout the criminal justice system, which means offering at least some of its programs free of charge. “This grant allows us to really provide access, and that's what's so critical about restorative justice,” said Clark. “It’s something that should be for everyone and it should be by invitation — it's not something you can compel.”
In December, the trustees of Vermont Law School discussed the merits of relocating from South Royalton, the school’s home since its founding in 1972, to Burlington. Those conversations have yielded no definitive answers, but according to Clark, the center is portable by design.
“I think we've all learned that we're mobile, and we can be where we need to be,” she said. “And that’s one of our visions — to have national impact, to be something that can be picked up and replicated elsewhere.”