The fiscal 2022 state budget proposal that unanimously passed the House of Representatives last week includes substantial support for Communities for Restorative Justice, thanks to an amendment introduced by Bedford State Rep. Ken Gordon.
The nonprofit agency, covering Bedford and 31 other towns and cities, provides an alternative to the criminal justice system. “We listen to victims, hold responsible parties accountable, and restore trust in communities,” according to the mission on the agency’s website.
“This additional funding was one of my top priorities,” Gordon said Tuesday. “Bedford was among the communities where this program began, and Select Board member Margot Fleischman and Police Chief Robert Bongiorno are among its staunchest advocates.”
“Restorative justice is one of the highlights of municipal policing in America and one of our biggest community policing success stories,” the chief commented. “It enables true community healing without the stain of a criminal record following an offender for the rest of their life. We are proud to be a member, and we are grateful as always to Rep. Gordon for his tireless support of good and effective public safety initiatives.”
Fleischman, president of the agency’s board, credits Bongiorno with cementing Bedford’s partnership a decade ago. He “saw the value of bringing a restorative justice program to our community,” she said, thanking Gordon for “his support and advocacy.”
“This is a program that allows appropriate young offenders a second chance while addressing the concern of the victim,” Gordon continued. “It lightens the load on our overburdened criminal courts.”
Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) also works with police departments and district attorneys “to rebuild trust and offer a path forward in the wake of crime.” Gordon said he expects the additional $100,000, if signed into law, will address staffing needs. He added that he hopes C4RJ serves as a model statewide.
School Committee member Sarah Scoville serves as volunteer communications coordinator for C4RJ. “We are crossing our fingers that the Senate will also support the restorative justice work we do to help individuals understand the harm they cause, give voice to the ones affected, and ultimately build stronger communities,” she said.”
Gordon said Bongiorno described the efforts of C4RJ during one of their first meetings as a new legislator. “I’m proud and grateful that Speaker Ron Mariano and Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michelwitz took what I had to say to heart, that restorative justice is good for certain young defendants, good for certain victims, and good for the court system.
The local representative said he also filed an annual amendment to support the Bedford Public Schools’ commitment to educating students from military families at Hanscom Air Force Base.
The $47.7 billion budget, which has been sent to the State Senate, includes significant investments in education, supportive services for vulnerable populations, MassHealth, and economic development, in addition to local funding, Gordon said. It increases unrestricted general government aid education funding over the current fiscal year.
The budget also includes money for summer education, college scholarships, emergency food assistance, help for families in transition, increases for state parks, environmental protection, and the endangered species programs, as well as hazardous waste site cleanups and riverways protection and access.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763