M.V. Mediation and Oak Bluffs police department partner on new restorative justice program

Cape Cod Five Bank regional president Richard Leonard, Peter Meleney of M.V. Mediation and Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake. - Peter Meleney

The Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program (MVMP) and the Oak Bluffs Police Department (OBPD) are partnering to launch a Restorative Justice initiative in the coming months.

According to a press release, with funding support from Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank Charitable Foundation Trust and others, MVMP and the OBPD will collaborate to introduce the program, which is a complement to the traditional criminal justice process and seen as another tool for law enforcement. The Farm Neck Foundation is also providing financial support for the project.

In the restorative justice process, community members are trained to work with victims, offenders, and the police, using a circle dialogue process to encourage a discussion about what happened, how all parties were affected, and what needs to happen to repair the harm. It is an intervention that is a complement to the criminal justice system and another tool for police. The common criteria are that the victim must agree to the option, and the offender must admit to the wrongdoing.

The main focus of this pilot program will be on youthful offenders involved with relatively minor crimes such as shoplifting, vandalism, and breaking and entering. As Detective Morse of the OBPD has said, “I think this program would be a valuable addition to Dukes County jurisprudence. I can think of numerous incidents where this program would have made a victim much more whole than court-ordered restitution.”

Restorative justice has been used by Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) in partnership with police departments in the Concord area since 2000. They now have partnerships with police in 18 surrounding towns.

Peter Meleney, a member of MVMP’s Executive Committee, has been active in recent months promoting the Restorative Justice model with local law enforcement, Island organizations, and residents. Mr. Meleney said, “There has been a lot of interest, and MVMP believes it is time to get the program started.”

On Friday, Jan. 27, there will be in introductory meeting at the Oak Bluffs Police Department building starting at 2 pm to explain how the Restorative Justice model works, and to identify those interested in being trained to be facilitators of the circle dialogue process. Christy Barbee, a Restorative Justice trainer from Concord, will explain what Restorative Justice is (and is not), describe the roles of the volunteer facilitators, the training required, and the time commitment. Those attending will see a DVD of a mock circle dialogue process and then participate in a discussion with the trainer about how the program works. Meleney says if there is sufficient interest, all-day training will be offered in the coming months.

Martha’s Vineyard Mediation is an Island-based nonprofit organization committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and offers periodic programs to the Vineyard community to promote mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Founded in 1984, MVMP receives a grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration, which partially funds its work in offering mediation services to the courts as well as in community disputes involving family and divorce, landlord/tenant, contractor/client, workplace, and family property issues.

For further information about the Restorative Justice program and the Jan. 27 meeting, please contact Peter Meleney at 508-693-2999, or via email at pmeleney@comcast.net.