The Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast will honor the Restorative Justice Project Sunday, Mar. 28 on the occasion of its fifth anniversary in Belfast. The ceremony will be a part of the regular church service, which begins at 10 a.m. The public is invited as well.

The basic idea of the Restorative Justice Project is that sometimes people, particularly young people, can get themselves into trouble with the law through unwise choices or bad lapses in judgment. Such persons are not necessarily bad at heart and can be redeemed, Restorative Justice believes. But all too often, they either fall through the cracks or worse still, find that jail can be a school for a future lifetime of crime.

The Restorative Justice Project attempts to prevent this in a way that fosters both support and healing for the victim of the crime and a chance for accountability and rehabilitation for the offender  — as well as promoting safety for the community. Much of this work is done through the aid of mentors and volunteers, many of them from the UU church.

RJP serves Waldo and Knox counties and was started in Belfast by members of the UU church, primarily Dr. Richard Snyder, a retired Presbyterian minister, and William Dopheide, a retired professor. The program is administered in a downtown Belfast office by UU church member Margaret Micolichek.

“The UU church of Belfast is well known in the Unitarian Universalist Association for its work with restorative justice,” said Interim Minister Mary Wellemeyer. “This work puts people in place in pursuit of our movement’s basic principles of respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person — as well as pursuing justice, equity and compassion in human relations.”

Only a few months ago, RJP reported that the Waldo County Jail had been transformed into a Regional Re-entry Center. RJP had been involved in the planning of that center for some time and was awarded a contract to provide long-term mentoring to individuals who have had problems with the law, and to facilitate their return to the community.

“Not only are lives being changed,” Snyder said, “But the criminal justice system is being transformed from a punitive approach to a more restorative one. Also, we continue to expand our work with adolescents, and as a result, many young people have been able to avoid a court record that would have permanently blemished their future.”

RJP expects in the future to be mentoring as many as 40 people at a time.

Snyder and Micolichek emphasized that the Restorative Justice Project is always looking for potential volunteers and mentors. For more information, call 338-2742 or look at RJP’s Web site at rjpmidcoast.org.