The Restorative Justice Project will celebrate its fifth anniversary  at Point Lookout in Northport Saturday, April 10.

With a theme of “Celebrating Second Chances,” the fundraising event will include a silent auction, a cash bar, dinner and dancing to the Bel-Isle Jazz Group. Proceeds will benefit RJP’s youth programs in area schools and juvenile court. Tickets are $50 and are available by calling RJP at 338-2742.

In late 2003 Dr. T. Richard Snyder met with Waldo County Sheriff Scott Story to explore his interest in restorative justice. Snyder had recently retired to Northport with his wife, Cassie, after a career as a professor and dean at New York Theological Seminary. With Story’s support, Snyder gathered a small steering committee that worked for more than a year to create the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast. Then in 2005 a part-time coordinator was hired and work began with inmates at the Waldo County Jail, juvenile offenders awaiting court hearings, and students at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. In 2007 RJP expanded to include Knox County.

Restorative Justice is an alternative to the current criminal justice system that stresses repairing injuries done to victims of crime, holding offenders responsible for the harm they have caused, offering options to jail and school expulsions that are rehabilitative rather than just punitive, promoting healthy decision-making as a way to reduce recidivism, reintegrating offenders into the community and engaging community volunteers (currently more than 60) as partners in restorative responses to crime.

In its short history, RJP has offered a successful alternative to incarceration and helped to reduce recidivism significantly. Its mentors have provided long-term help for scores of inmates as they re-enter the community, offered mentoring to dozens of offenders who have been referred to RJP rather than to jail, and mentored more 80 juvenile offenders who were referred by probation, the courts, or law enforcement. RJP has been a significant presence in schools statewide as well by offering restorative measures and conferences as options to expulsions and suspensions for wrongdoing.

Snyder early on developed a close relationship with Story, who has integrated restorative practices into the county jail and strongly advocated for creation of the state’s first male re-entry facility for inmates which opened this winter in the former jail building.

Snyder, Story and June Koegel, president and chief executive officer of Volunteers of America, NNE, whose agency works closely with RJP and Story on constructive options for offenders, will be honored at the April 10 event.

Koegel directs VOA programs in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and serves on the national board of the organization. She has also served as chairwoman of the Maine Criminal Justice Commission and is a director of Jobs for Maine Graduates.

Snyder taught in a master’s program at Sing Sing Prison in New York during his career at New York Theological Seminary, an experience that opened his eyes to the futility of the current approach to corrections. He has studied alternatives in South Africa and Sweden and has lectured widely on the subject. He is the author of “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Punishment,” published in 2001 and is currently the academic dean at Bangor Theological Seminary, confessing that he “flunked retirement.”

Story, who holds an associate’s degree in legal technology from the University of Maine, will seek a fourth term as sheriff in November. He is a member of the state’s Board of Corrections, was president of the Maine Sheriffs Association from 2004-2006 and was co-chairman of the Corrections Alternatives Advisory Committee that made major recommendations for change in 2006.

RJP has a contract with Volunteers of America to train additional mentors for the re-entry facility in Belfast, which will help inmates from six coastal counties (from Washington to Sagadahoc) transition back to their communities. The organization now has three full-time staff and two VISTA workers who are developing programs and training volunteers to create restorative practices in Maine schools and institutions.