News by Professionals 4 Professionals


Reference Library – USA – Vermont

Suzi Wizowaty: Why we need more restorative justice

Editor s note: This commentary is by Suzi Wizowaty, who is the executive director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform[1]. She is a former member of the Vermont House of Representatives.

I have been known to say, a few hundred times, that punishment doesn t work. That is to say, it works if your goal is to cause suffering. But it doesn t work if you want to make things better as a result, for example to reduce future crime, because the human beings we punish tend to emerge more damaged as a result that is, more prone to hurt others, rather than chastened or rehabilitated and propelled to a better, kinder, more responsible life.

The question then becomes, what s the alternative? There is an alternative, but look what happens when well-meaning people who want to avoid the destructive consequences of punishment are not able to access the alternative, either because it doesn t exist or because they don t know it exists. Here s an example (true story): In a semi-public setting, a man assaulted a woman grabbed her and tried to force himself on her. She got away, was not harmed physically, and immediately told those in charge of the setting. The man was asked to leave the premises and did. The woman did not want to involve the police. Her reason: He was an immigrant and she feared he might be deported, which she felt was an extreme sanction.

(Let me make very clear that he could just as easily have been a long-term Vermonter or a local college student; the point is not that he was an immigrant but that well-intentioned Vermonters have very real concerns about the overreaction of our criminal justice system in this case potential deportation and now more than ever.)

Adults who continue to engage in destructive behaviors whether merely socially unacceptable or truly harmful often need a more significant intervention. Reading this, one might have several reactions. That was stupid, he should have been punished. Or yes, that was a generous and right thing to do, because the criminal justice system is unpredictable and racially biased and you can t count on fairness. Or perhaps something in between, like, that was potentially dangerous; with no consequences, he s likely to do it again to someone else. But that s not the end of the story. What happened next is this: The same man appeared a few months later in the same setting, this time as a security guard, on contract from a local company. One of the workers recognized him and spoke with those in charge. (Another woman who knew of the earlier event immediately fled, in response to her own PTSD panic.) The company was called and a different security guard requested.

What is wrong with this scenario? What s missing? What s missing is any kind of accountability that might support internal change on this man s part. What s wrong is the equating of punishment with accountability. Were those involved in the first incident wrong not to involve the police? No. Because in fact in our current system of criminal justice, punishment often precludes true accountability that is, discourages it and often literally makes it impossible, by prohibiting contact between the two parties. But then, what might accountability rather than punishment look like? This is where restorative justice comes in. Restorative justice stresses accountability. The process asks some version of the following: What happened (who was hurt?)? What do the various parties need? Who has an obligation to address the needs/repair the harm/restore the relationships, and how will that be done?

Now, I don t know that a restorative process would have worked in this situation. I wasn t there, and don t know the parties personally. But the chances are good. We know this because statistically, those involved in restorative processes report higher satisfaction with the process, and the recidivism rate is lower. It s important to note that those who spend their lives fighting to end sexual violence have raised legitimate concerns about the viability of a system that assumes participants have equal power (i.e. restorative justice processes); others have noted that the current criminal justice system has a host of problems that render it ineffective at best and harmful at worst. It doesn t address victims needs, and it doesn t ensure any change on the part of the offender (and as noted can result in worse outcomes). Perhaps most significantly, because getting the state involved has the potential to further harm a family, victims often choose not to seek help at all until problems have escalated to the point of life-threatening danger. But it s important to note that in the example above, the imagined alternative doesn t require the woman affected to sit in a circle with the man who assaulted her, to confront him directly, even if supported by community members. That s one possibility, and it tends to provide satisfaction to those who choose it. But a victim-centered process can have as great an impact when others represent the victim, who may choose not be present.

This particular story has no end. It s entirely possible that the man featured in it learned something on his own about appropriate behavior with women. However, adults who continue to engage in destructive behaviors whether merely socially unacceptable or truly harmful often need a more significant intervention. Not punishment, and certainly not jail, but an experience of being held truly accountable, and allowed to make things right, to the extent possible. That is the alternative that more of us need to know about, and that needs to be made more available to address interpersonal harm.


  1. ^ Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform (

Ever majestic, Wisconsin’s Capitol celebrates its centennial

There’s a definite spring to state Sen. Fred Risser[1]‘s step that belies his advancing years.

“Let’s take the stairs,” he said as he and an aide walked through the Wisconsin State Capitol, which marks its 100th anniversary this year. The beautiful building is just 10 years older than Risser, who turns 90 on May 5. The Madison native has spent six of his nine decades as a lawmaker in the edifice that dominates the city skyline.


“Sixty years in this building, and I’ve never ridden an elevator,” he stated with pride. That’s quite a feat, given that Wisconsin’s Capitol soars more than 284 feet, making it just one yard shorter that the nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The building sits on a 13-acre square. While the Capitol is the state’s nerve center, that square is the city’s soul. With its vibrant, pulsing collection of hotels, restaurants and museums, plus its wildly popular farmers market, the Capitol Square beckons visitors not only from America’s Dairyland but well beyond. A 1904 fire razed the former Capitol, forcing the lengthy construction of a new one. Each resident was taxed 25 cents to help fund the $7 million building, completed in 1917.

“I have seen 38 state Capitols, and yours is really extraordinary,” guide Annette Eisman told guests as she led them on a free tour, armed with an arsenal of facts about the building’s mosaics, statues and other features. The sparkling crystal chandeliers, for instance, were made by the same company that crafted fixtures for the RMS Titanic five years earlier. Forty-three types of stone quarried everywhere from Wisconsin to Vermont and Italy to Algeria are incorporated into the Capitol’s 700 rooms.

“It looks exactly as it did in 1917,” Eisman pointed out. “Even the light bulb wattages are the same.” Maintenance workers keep busy tending to 40,000 bulbs.

Visitors are also welcome to explore the building on their own, though its warren of corridors and stairwells can be disorienting. For bird’s eye views, climb the stairs there’s no elevator up here into the dome. The walls are covered with displays sharing the building’s history. The security officer has the key to a small balcony inside the actual dome not a great place for those with vertigo. An expansive outdoor terrace with views of downtown, the lakes and the University of Wisconsin campus isn’t nearly as frightening. Back at ground level, three very different museums face the Capitol: the Wisconsin State Historical Museum (30 N. Carroll St.,[3] the Wisconsin Veterans Museum (30 W. Mifflin St.,[4]) and the Madison Children’s Museum (100 N. Hamilton St.,[5]).

Parents can chill while their kids safely tear through the museum built with them in mind. It’s filled with fun, interactive exhibits. Informative but static exhibits populate the historical museum, which showcases what’s described as Wisconsin’s “lively politics.” It’s a phenomenon that remains obvious in progressive Madison.

“Hang down your head, Scott Walker, hang down your head in shame,” sang a small group of protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside the Capitol. Known as the Solidarity Singers, the group has been locked in battle with Walker, the state’s Republican governor, since he took office in 2011. Every weekday from noon to 1 p.m., the group protests with its repertoire of folk songs, either in the rotunda or outdoors.

“We have never missed one Monday through Friday,” said Christine Taylor, a retired computer programmer for the state. “Forty below, snow, ice, there’s always somebody here.”

On Saturdays from mid-April through mid-November, the square’s sidewalks are the domain of the Dane County Farmers’ Market ([6]), one of the best in the country. It draws thousands of people each week. The 180 stalls that ring the Capitol are stocked with fruits and veggies, breads and pastries, meat and fish, colorful flowers and, of course, cheese.

“Isn’t that good? I love it, love it,” Julie Hook remarked as a potential customer sampled one of the roughly 60 varieties of cheese she and her husband, Tony, sell each Saturday. They’ve been regulars since 1994.

“You get to talk directly to the consumer that’s trying your product,” Tony said. “They get to sample it and tell you what they think.”

Shoppers can take a respite from the crowds (and a bathroom break) inside the Capitol. All year long in the rotunda, there’s a special exhibit: “A Century of Stories Celebrating 100 Years at the Capitol.”

“It’s a gorgeous building,” Sen. Risser, D-Madison, remarked. “The setting of this Capitol is such that you can see it from 25 miles away because it’s on a hilltop.”

“Being 100 years old doesn’t show,” he added. “It’s very current in its functionality.”

Jay Jones is a freelance writer.

If you go

Hourlong tours of the Capitol, 2 E. Main St., are held several times daily. No reservations required. Call 608-266-0382;[7]. For more on the centennial, visit[8]. Several restaurants and hotels can be found on or near the Capitol Square. The Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant (23 N. Pinckney St.,[9]) celebrates the traditions of Wisconsin’s taverns and supper clubs.

The square’s newest lodging, AC Hotel Madison Downtown (1 N. Webster St.,[10]), will welcome its first guests in May.

Visit the historical museum’s gift shop for unique presents and souvenirs, including T-shirts pointing out that, in Wisconsin, drinking fountains often go by the name “bubblers.”

The Wisconsin Historical Society is running a 90-minute walking tour, “Hidden History of the Capitol Square,” at 2:30 p.m. June 17. The price is $10. Call 608-261-9359, or register online at[11].



  1. ^ Fred Risser (
  3. ^ (,)
  4. ^ (
  5. ^ (
  6. ^ (
  7. ^ (
  8. ^ (
  9. ^ (
  10. ^ (
  11. ^ (

Vermont says job databank compromised

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Department of Labor says a job database used by the state has been compromised by malicious software. Officials said Wednesday that the breach of America’s Job Link Alliance, a provider of a nationwide web-based database Joblink, has been fixed and it’s unknown at this time if any personal information was extracted. They say it’s unknown whether the malicious software was deliberately or unintentionally introduced.

The state says analysts are working to determine if any accounts containing names and possibly Social Security numbers were compromised.

The state is advising users of Joblink to review bank, credit card and debit card account statements and report any suspicious activity to their bank or credit card company.

AP-WF-03-22-17 1522GMT

1 2 3 502