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July 4, 2020 - 12:26pm

Dennis Wittman, Batavia resident recognized internationally as pioneer in restorative justice, has passed

posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice, news, notify.


Dennis Wittman, the founding director of Genesee Justice, the nation's first county-level agency built around the concepts of restorative justice, has passed away.

He was 77.

Wittman was a probation officer and supervisor in the Town of Bethany when newly elected sheriff Doug Call came to him in 1980 and asked him to be the agency's founding director. At first, Wittman said no. The supervisor's position felt like a second full-time job and the last thing he needed, he told The Batavian in 2010, was to become the head of a program that was untested and may not last.

Then one day in 1981, Wittman was summoned to his supervisor's office. There he found Tom Gillis, his boss, Call, Family Court Judge Charles Graney, and County Judge Glen Morton.

"I could see they were going to pound away on me," Wittman recalled. "I said, 'OK, I'll give it a try.' "

While Wittman reported to the sheriff, officials didn't want him hanging out with detectives or attorneys, so he was given a desk in the law library. He had no staff at first.

As a former seminary student, Wittman's attitude toward offenders already aligned with the goal of finding alternatives to incarceration.  

Call's goal was to cut the inmate population in the Genesee County Jail to help avoid the construction of a new facility.

By the time Wittman retired in 2006, 4,959 offenders had performed community service, doing 356,858 hours of unpaid work.

The alternative to jail had also saved county taxpayers more than $5.9 million because those offenders weren't in jail for the 60,000 days they would have served otherwise.

During his career, Wittman was also concerned about caring for the victims of crime. Under his leadership, Genesee Justice became the lead agency for:

  • Victim's Assistance
  • Judicial Diversion
  • Justice for Children
  • Child Advocacy
  • Justice for Women
  • Release Under Supervision (a Probation Department program until 2002)
  • DWI-Conditional Discharge 

The effort at establishing a government agency dedicated to restorative justice made Wittman an in-demand speaker in the restorative justice community. He traveled to 40 states plus Japan and Canada to talk about his work at Genesee Justice. He received another 2,500 invitations to speak in Europe that he was unable to accept.

To read his obituary, click here.

Previously: The Genesee Justice Story

Photo: File photo from 2010.

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