The Hancock County Reparations Board's goal is to help keep young offenders out of Maine’s juvenile corrections system. THINKSTOCK PHOTO

New reparations board plan would keep young offenders out of jail

ELLSWORTH — A group of concerned citizens, with help from the Hancock County District Attorney’s Office, is launching the Hancock County Reparations Board to help keep young offenders out of Maine’s juvenile corrections system.

Board members, Assistant District Attorney Heather Staples and Juvenile Community Corrections Officer John Bennoch spoke to the Hancock County Commissioners Dec. 5 about endorsing the project and possibly helping fund it.

Staples handles the prosecution of juvenile cases, those involving youths under age 18, for Hancock County.

“We obviously have a lot of juvenile matters in Hancock County,” Staples said. “I think it’s actually a great savings as far as a practical matter goes.”

Staples said she was involved some years ago with a Blue Hill arson case.

“The four young men, from what I gather, went on to college and moved on with life,” Staples said. “It’s just a different form of justice than what we’re used to seeing.”

Bennoch, juvenile community corrections officer, said, “I’m asking you to bless this project.”

Bennoch told the commissioners he works with Restorative Justice Project of the Mid-Coast, which expanded a year ago to include Hancock County.

“We can divert cases with the district attorney’s approval,” Bennoch said.

The perpetrators, their parents and victims gather in a circle to discuss the crime and how the victims were affected and what can be done to make them whole, he said.

“It really brings to light how the crime impacts victims,” Bennoch said. “I can say anecdotally the kids I’ve worked with have responded very well.”

Blue Hill resident Anne Smallidge is one of the citizens who has been trying to launch the Hancock County Reparations Board.

“A lot of the young people who will be seen and go through the circle will not be going to jail,” Smallidge said. “They will be back in the community.”

The commissioners had several questions.

“What kind of budget are you talking about?” Commissioner Bill Clark asked.

“I’m not prepared to talk about that,” Smallidge said.

“Do you have any statistics on the people you’ve helped?” asked Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown.

“We’re really just beginning,” Smallidge said.

Chairman Antonio Blasi asked, “What about the potential for progressing to adult intervention?”

“I know it’s a wish of the district attorney; it’s a few years down the road,” Smallidge said.

“You put these people in the same room?” Brown asked.

“We sit in literally a circle with the victim, with the offender,” Bennoch said. “It’s very structured.”

“What happens in the meantime if we have another violation?” Brown asked.

“I’ll deal with them in restorative justice before it gets to the court system,” Bennoch said.

Brown also inquired about funding.

“We have a contract with the Maine Department of Corrections,” Bennoch said.

Clark said he would support the program for juveniles and made a motion to do so. However, Clark would not accept a “friendly amendment” from Blasi to include adults in the future.

Brown approved the motion but said he wanted someone to come up with a program that prevents people “from doing this stuff in the first place.”

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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