Vermont’s juvenile justice system saves a woman’s life
Jun 22, 2009
This is the first of four columns in a series about the nation’s oldest and most mature restorative juvenile justice system.
Today, at 38 years old, Robyn Masi has her life together. She’s the proud assistant vice president and branch manager of Union Bank in Lamoille County, Vt. She’s served as a school board member on behalf of her two kids. And more recently she joined a local restoration panel. These panels are nationally and internationally recognized models of a juvenile justice strategy that restores offenders to good graces in their communities by hearing their cases and working out restitution plans.
But at 16, Masi was one of those offending kids. She says, “I got into a lot of trouble. And I got caught. I was horrified to have to tell my parents and grandparents. My father was pretty strict, so telling him was very hard. But he’s the one who took me to see an attorney.”
She said up front that if I needed to know what she did, we could end the interview right there. Whatever it was, the shame still stings. But she wants to tell her story, minus the offense, because she believes Vermont’s judicial response to her crime saved her life. “I would not be where I am today if I’d gone through the regular court system. I don’t even know if you can get a job in a bank if you have a record.”
Thirty years ago, Vermont’s enlightened bureaucrats implemented a juvenile “diversion” program, which is not unlike the restorative panels, but reached by a different path through the judicial system. The prosecutor had the right to remand Masi to the adult court system even as a 16-year-old. But, she recalls, “the state’s attorney agreed to turn me over to the program. The lawyer said, here are your alternatives. I suggest you take this route.”