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Genesee Justice

August 26, 2020 - 8:17pm

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The Genesee County Legislature today sent a timely and vital message of “hope and healing” as it issued a proclamation in recognition of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week (Sept. 6-12), World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10) and National Recovery Month (September).

Legislator Gary Maha, reading from the decree that also shined a light on mental health awareness, said that “in these challenging times, messages of hope and healing are needed more than ever” as representatives of the County Mental Health Department, Genesee Justice and Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse looked on at the Old County Courthouse.

“Where millions of people around the world join their voices to share messages of hope and healing … these observances are united to raising awareness that prevention is possible, treatment is effective and people do recover … in these challenging times messages of hope and healing are more needed than ever,” Maha read.

The proclamation went on to state that county residents have “access to high-quality prevention support, rehabilitation and treatment services that lead to recovery and a healthy lifestyle … and that every day in Genesee County, people begin treatment at behavioral health services and community supports to begin the road to wellness and recovery.”

Maha read that that the “benefits of preventing and overcoming mental health challenges, suicide attempts and loss, and substance abuse are significant and valuable to individuals, families and our community at large … (and) it is essential that we educate residents about suicide, mental health and substance abuse and the ways they affect all the people in the community.”

Lynda Battaglia, director of mental health and community services at the Genesee County Mental Health Department, said it was “wonderful” that the legislature was acknowledging these issues and spoke of the “incredible collaboration” across agencies – calling it “a shared mission” to provide help and hope.

She said that every day, on average, 132 people die by suicide.

“Every number is a person … a loved one,” she said.

Battaglia encouraged those contemplating suicide or having serious mental health or substance use issues to reach out because they “are not alone.”

“There are people who want to help you and care for you,” she said. “We are your lifeline.”

Photo, from left, Shannon Ford, GCASA services director of Communications, Development and Prevention; Sue Gagne, Genesee County Suicide Prevention Coalition coordinator and GCASA recovery center coordinator; Maha; Catherine Uhly, director of Genesee Justice; Legislator Gordon Dibble; Battaglia. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

July 4, 2020 - 12:26pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice, news, notify.

dennis_wittman2010.jpg

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.

May 29, 2019 - 8:15pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Genesee Justice, notify, County Jail.

Co-chairs of a committee charged with navigating the road toward a new county jail underscored the validity of a joint architect/consultant study on Wednesday afternoon as they asked Genesee County legislators to consider a 200-bed facility to replace the current County Jail at 14 W. Main St.

“This is coming from the experts,” said County Sheriff William Sheron, who is heading the 12-member steering committee along with County Assistant Manager Matthew Landers.

Sheron, speaking at a Committee of the Whole meeting at the Old Courthouse, was referring to a study conducted by SMRT, the architect under contract with the county, and CRS Inc., a consulting firm noted for its work in jail planning and analysis.

Landers reported that the committee is unanimous in recommending a 200-bed jail in light of the study, which initially found that the county would need a 184-bed facility by 2042, but then changed its estimate to 214 beds after reviewing 18 months of new data. New York State has mandated Genesee County to erect a new jail.

“We felt 214 was too extreme,” Landers said. “We believe a 200-bed facility (with five separate areas or pods) would give us flexibility.”

Landers noted that about 30 of the cells could be sized appropriately to double-bunk (100 square feet compared to 80 square feet) as a relatively short-term solution (as the population swells).

Jail Superintendent William Zipfel, however, said he was against double-bunking.

"It really doesn't work," he said, "and to build a jail for double-bunking would be ludicrous.”

Zipfel agreed that flexibility was important due to the several “classifications” of inmates. He said the jail needs to be flexible as prisoners with special needs (medical, emotional, substance abuse, pregnancy, childbirth, etc.) would have to be segregated at times and given “recreational” space.

The current jail is operating at 95 to 99 percent capacity, Zipfel said, and has created a “lot of strain” on his employees.

Legislator Gary Maha, the longtime former county sheriff, urged legislators to look at recent history when making their decision on the new jail’s size.

“We don’t want to build it too small. That happened to us in the ‘80s,” he said, referring to the County Courts Facility across the road from the Old Courthouse.

As a matter of perspective, Zipfel said that the current county jail houses around 90 prisoners on average and “boards out” to other counties at least 30 more.

“If we moved into a new 184-bed jail today, we’d be at 80 percent capacity (the state’s recommended level),” he said.

When Legislator Andrew Young asked “how do we get from 120 to 200,” Zipfel answered, “As soon as it opens, the female (jail) population in this county will double.”

Zipfel said he values the opinion of the “professionals” who did the needs assessment, and agrees with (at least) the 200-bed figure.

“The Court Facility is too small now and it came back to haunt us,” he said. “We’ve done this before. It would be a shame to do it again.”

Legislator Robert Bausch said 200 beds may be the right size, considering “we’re at about 125 now at the lower end and if 160 is the top end – 80 percent capacity – I could see that the middle ground is going to fill up very quickly.”

Bausch mentioned, at least twice, that each cell costs $250,000.

Sheron and Landers’ agenda also included the possibility of including an “arraignment room” in the facility, moving Genesee Justice to the new jail and the requirement to hire four to five new correction officers as the “jail transition team.”

“If we pushed through an arraignment room, it would save considerably on transportation costs,” Sheron said, adding that he would like to see Genesee Justice there as well because “they’re the ones keeping them (potential prisoners) out of jail.”

The current plan also includes a 2,000-square-foot medical area, said County Manager Jay Gsell.

Landers said the county needs to start budgeting for four or five new correction officers – additional employees mandated by the NYS Commission of Corrections -- to serve as a team dedicated to transitioning from the old jail to the new one.

Sheron added that both jails – he termed the current jail as “antiquated” -- would be in operation for about six months after the opening of the new one.

Following the transition, these officers would be retained and join the sheriff’s office full-time staff.

Landers said the project has moved from the “programming phase into the schematic design phase” following the hiring of SMRT and the Pike Company as construction manager. He said the county has a verbal informal agreement with the owner of adjacent land on West Main Street Road for an additional 2.81 acres, if needed.

While nothing is official at this time, a jail of that size would cost around $50 million, and would be funded by sales tax revenue (the county has restructured its sales tax distribution system with its municipalities) and through a reserve fund, Landers said.

County leaders are looking at county-owned land near County Building 2 on West Main Street Road as a potential site. Sheron said he would hope to see a shovel in the ground by next summer – “if everything keeps moving along." Then it would take about two years to complete the jail.

Other members of the committee are Legislator Shelley Stein, Undersheriff Brad Mazur, Assistant County Engineer Laura Wadhams, IT Director Stephen Zimmer, Planning Director Felipe Oltramari and Deputy Treasurer Kevin Andrews.

March 12, 2019 - 3:36pm

"Honoring Our Past. Creating Hope for the Future." -- Theme for 2019 National Crime Victims' Rights Week, April 7-13

Genesee County Criminal Justice Day will focus on "A Case Study of the 1987 Pembroke School DWI Tragedy."

The case study will be presented from 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, April 8, at Genesee Community College in Room T102 of the Conable Technology Building.

On June 10, 1987, an automobile accident killed three Pembroke High School students and their driver-education teacher while they were participating in a hands-on driving exercise on Route 5 in Pembroke. Killed at the scene were Rhonda Reeves, Eric Hamm-Johnson, Mindy Beals -- all 17, and 55-year-old instructor Patrick Collins, who died several hours later.

They were struck head on when Lyndon Goodell, 23, drove recklessly on the wrong side of the road while intoxicated. A wrongful-death lawsuit filed later by the victms' families found Goodell and his passenger, Carol Rokicki Elder, equally at fault. Rokicki Elder gave Goodell the keys to her car and the bottle of whiskey that they shared.

Goodell was convicted in a jury trial in August 1988 of manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter and several traffic infractions. A month later, Genesee County Judge Glenn R. Morton sentenced Goodell to 7 1/2 to 15 years in state prison.

The wrongful-death suit settlement totaled $340,000 for all four victims, paid out by auto and homeowners insurance companies, including $40,000 from the auto insurance company for Pembroke schools. The sum was considered the maximum obtainable in light of insurance coverage the parties had in effect.

The tragic episode struck the heart of the small Pembroke community.

In next month's presentation, the impact of the trauma will be discussed and details will be shared about how those involved were able to work through the heartbreak and also make positive changes for the future.

This case study will offer different perspectives, including:

  • Sheriff's Office Crash Scene Investigator -- Judge James Orr
  • Prosecuting District Attorney -- Judge Robert C. Noonan
  • Pembroke School teacher -- Gregory Kinal
  • Family members: Deputy Patrick Reeves -- brother; and Patricia Reeves -- mother

Bonita Frazer (MS, CTS, FAAETS) will wrap up the day with a presentation on the topic of trauma and its impact on a community.

Cost to attend is $10; students and seniors pay $5. Make checks out to: Genesee Justice (You can write Criminal Justice Day 2019 in the memo line.)

To attend this event, mail payment by April 1 along with your name, address, city, state, Zip code, phone # and email address.

Click here for a PDF registration form.

Mail to:

Genesee Justice

14 W. Main St.

Batavia, NY 14020

For more details or questions, contact Holly McAllister, of Genesee Justice, at 344-2550, ext. 3929, or email her at:   [email protected]

January 11, 2019 - 3:42pm

Submitted photo and press release:

The Genesee Justice office, part of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, received a nice donation Wednesday from Pastor Vern Saile at the Northgate Free Methodist Church in the amount of $2,732.11 from a day of giving they did through the church.

The money will be used partly for staff trainings and also for program expenses not covered by any other funding received by the office.

"We are very appreciative to be chosen as the recipient of this check to fill existing gaps in our programs," said Tammy Schmidt, financial management assistant, Genesee Justice / Child Advocacy Center.

Top photo: Pastor Vern Saile, of Northgate Free Methodist Church, and Cathy Uhly, program coordinator for Genesee Justice.

April 3, 2018 - 10:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in YWCA, Genesee Justice, news, Sheriff's Office.

Press release:

Genesee County Sheriff William A. Sheron Jr. would like to remind the public that one of the many roles of Genesee Justice, a division of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, is to provide assistance to crime victims, including domestic violence victims.

For more information, please contact Genesee Justice, located at 14 W. Main St. in the City of Batavia, (585) 815-7821.

Information from the Genesee Justice Web Page:

Becoming a victim of a criminal act is often a traumatic and disorienting experience for individuals. Victims are faced with an increased sense of vulnerability and threat to their personal autonomy and independence. Victims can also question their beliefs on safety and the order that they have come to expect from the community that they live in.

Genesee Justice works with victims to help them attain a more personal sense of justice. The investigation and prosecution of offenders within the criminal justice system is complex and foreign to most people, particularly as to how it impacts victims. Dignity doesn’t often come easy within the courtroom or the community. We encourage victims to empower themselves, which is critical to the healing process.

We will keep victims informed of what is happening with the investigation of the accused and guide them through any role they may need to play; we will take the time to explain to victims what they can expect during the proceedings of a case when it goes into court; we will accompany victims to any process and court proceedings; and we will assist victims in seeking counseling services; we will also help to address financial losses incurred as a result of the crime, including assisting victims in filling out applications for the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS), if they are eligible.

The OVS helps victims with unexpected or unaffordable medical or funeral expenses, loss of work and counseling services.

A victim may be referred to Genesee Justice by the District Attorney’s Office, Family Court, or Law Enforcement. Our door is always open for victims to walk in themselves.

Victim Assistance Services include:

  • Assistance in filing Office of Victim Services application;
  • Provide information on VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) and assist victim with VINE registration, if interested;
  • Provide updates on status of court case;
  • Assistance in preparing pre-sentence investigation packet:
    • Restitution information
    • Victim impact statementProvide home visits
  • Refer clients to appropriate agencies for further assistance;
  • Assistance in preparing right of allocution; (the victim’s right to speak in front of the Court at sentencing)
  • Assistance in preparing application for orders of protection;
  • Assistance in filing paperwork with surrogates court;
  • Accompaniment to court appearances;
  • Provide referrals for counseling;
  • Provide referrals for emergency items if needed by victims;
  • Assistance in writing letters to Parole Board;
  • Offer opportunity for victim/offender conference if desired by the victim.
July 9, 2015 - 3:48pm
posted by Billie Owens in Event, Genesee Justice.
Event Date and Time: 
July 21, 2015 - 12:00pm to 2:00pm

As a way of thanking all those who make our community a better place to live, Genesee Justice will host a picnic in Pavilion A at Genesee County Park from noon to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21.

Hot dogs, mac-n-cheese, potato salad, green salad, and name tags will be provided. Bring a dish to pass if you like. Hope for sunshine!

Please reply to:

Rosanne Smart, 344-2550, ext. 3923, [email protected]

Or

April 15, 2013 - 12:45pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Stafford, Genesee Justice, Doug Call.

UPDATE: Doug Call's full obituary can be viewed by clicking here.

Doug Call, whose noteworthy contributions to the people of Genesee County could take pages to list, passed away Sunday.

Call, 73, was a Democrat who was elected Sheriff in a Republican county, an innovator who helped found Genesee Justice, a former Stafford Town Justice, a minister, a volunteer on numerous civic committees, a former public safety director in Monroe County and twice a candidate for Congress.

"He was just one of the finest human beings God has ever put breath into," said attorney Michael Del Plato, who worked in private practice with Call for more than 20 years. "He was an honest, principled man in all respects -- his approach to people and his approach to the law and his overriding spirituality.

Call grew up in Stafford and his longtime assistant Mary Kay Casey said Call's farming background combined with is legal training made Call a very "grassroots" person who believed people should be involved in their community.

"I think he truly cared about where he lived and where he came from," Casey said.

Call is survived by his wife, Donna, and children Christopher, Matthew and Courtney Kennedy as well as several grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by H.E. Turner and details are not yet available.

Call's time in the military sent him to Germany and Turkey and he was a judge for the Judge Advocate General's Office.

In the late 1970s, one the biggest issues confronting Genesee County was whether to build a new jail. Call, like many taxpayers, was against the idea.

He, along with Glenn Morton and Charles Graney, envisioned a system where people accused of certain crimes could be supervised while awaiting trial.

Running for Sheriff on a platform that would solve the jail population problem and save taxpayers money, Call became one of the few Democrats in modern times to win a countywide seat in Genesee County.

"You can either be the last county in the nation to build a 90-bed maximum security jail, or you can be the first to try to keep people out of jail by holding offenders accountable," Call wrote in a letter to the editor prior to the election.

Call, working with Morton and Graney, secured grants to create Genesee Justice and hired Dennis Wittman to run the program. (See The Genesee Justice Story).

Near the end of his second term, Call took a job in Monroe County as director of public safety.  He relinquished his Sheriff's badge and recommended that Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo appoint Gary Maha, a Republican, to the position, which Cuomo did.

Maha remembers Call as a visionary.

He was the "father" of our current Genesee Justice Programs. Back then it was called "Community Service/Victim Assistance" and was primarily a tool for the judges to use (community service) rather than jail. The intent of the programs were to make the defendant accountable to the victim and community. The programs under Genesee Justice have expanded over the years. Doug also was the first in New York State to implement "DWI Checkpoints" and the protocols used by the Genesee County Sheriff's Office served as a model for other law enforcement agencies.

Besides running unsuccessfully for Congress after Barber Conable stepped down, Call also tried for a seat as Family Court judge. He did serve several terms as a Stafford Town Justice.

Call also served on committees related to the reconstruction of Dwyer Stadium and the hospital merger, plus other local committees and civic organizations.

"His contributes to the community and the organizations he volunteered for are innumerable," Del Plato said. "He was a man who gave his time and resources unselfishly for the better of his community and every organization he was involved in."

NOTE: We'll update this story when more information is released by Turner.

October 30, 2012 - 4:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice.

Press release:

The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office reports the appointment of Shannon L. Ford to fill the position of Genesee Justice program coordinator; a position that was created after a vacancy was left by the resignation of the assistant director. 

Ford has more than 13 years of experience in the field of alcohol and substance abuse. While previously employed by Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, she has held the titles of assistant director of Prevention, Prevention supervisor, Prevention educator, and Chemical Dependency counselor.

She is a 1990 Regents High School graduate from Alexander Central School; a graduate from SUNY at Buffalo with a bachelor of arts degree in Psychology/Sociology; a 2007 graduate of Leadership Genesee; has served on the Juvenile Justice Planning Committee for the past seven years and was its chair in 2006; and has been instrumental in the awarding of numerous grants to GCASA, which include Drug Free Communities Grant, Gambling Prevention Grant, Enforcing the Underage Drinking Laws Grant, and NYS Tobacco Control Community Partnership Grant.

Also to her credit, within the past five years, Shannon has developed a program called "Accountability Circle" to address underage drinking using restorative justice principles. This program currently serves more than 300 youths per year.

Sheriff Gary Maha stated, “Ms. Ford comes highly recommended for this position and will be a great asset to Genesee Justice. She has demonstrated that she is a dedicated individual who is eager to accept the position of Genesee Justice program coordinator.

"In addition to supervising the Genesee Justice staff, she will also oversee the Justice for Children Advocacy Center. Shannon was the unanimous selection of an interviewing committee and will start in this position November 5.”

October 9, 2011 - 6:35pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Stafford, Genesee County Democrats, Genesee Justice.

Doug Call, 71, a former Genesee County Sheriff now finishing out his final term as a Town of Stafford justice, was honored with a picnic today in Stafford.

It was organized by local Democrats, and is one of their annual fundraisers, but Call was the guest of honor and several Republicans attended.

County Chairwoman Lorie Longhany said Call has been a good Democrat, but more importantly, he's been a good public servant.

"He's one of the best public servants Genesee County ever had," Longhany said.  "His service transcended politics. It was always about public service."

As Sheriff -- perhaps the only Democrat ever elected to Sheriff in Genesee County -- Call initiated the Stop DWI program, which included DWI checkpoints on roadways. The program would be challenged in court, but the county won appeals all the way up to the state's Court of Appeals. It's a program that is now widely used across the country.

Call was also instrumental in getting Genesee Justice started, a program Call estimates has saved the county millions and millions of dollars over the years.

For one thing, by putting criminals in intervention programs rather than locking them up, the county was spared the expense of a new, larger jail.

On hand to honor Call today were Congresswoman Kathy Hochul and Sheriff Gary Maha. Assemblyman Steven Hawley sent a letter and Darien Town Justice Gary Graber, who is incoming president of the state magistrates' association, spoke in praise of Call. Graber was first elected in 1980, when Call first became Sheriff.

A quiet man, Call doesn't put much of a spotlight on his own accomplishments.

"I’m humbled by (the honors today) because I just did things," Call said. "Apparently people think it’s important and they’re here."

He then added, "Other's could have done it."

August 31, 2011 - 5:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice.

Supporters of Genesee Justice are feeling a little nervous about funding for the pioneering restorative justice program for 2012.

A heroic effort was made to save the program for 2011, including beginning the process of setting up a nonprofit organization to help sustain the agency's programs.

In part because it's a long process to establish a nonprofit, the Genesee Justice Foundation is still looking to the county legislature to fund the agency at sufficient levels to keep it going.

The $40,000 provided by the county in 2010 won't be enough, said Jane Schmider, president of the foundation.

"Even to continue at that level would be very difficult," said Schmider today following the first meeting of the foundation at Terry Hills. "To keep it going this year Peter often had to rob Paul, but Paul has run out of money now."

So far, the foundation hasn't gotten any clear indication from the county on what to expect from the legislature, Schmider said.

It's expected to be another lean budget year and several county departments are preparing for cuts, but Schmider said Genesee Justice should be considered an essential county service.

"It should be funded by the county," Schmider said. "It's a part of the Sheriff's department. That's where it started, that's where it grew up. It's part of our criminal justice system. It's part of county government."

Asked about fund-raising goals for the foundation, Schmider said, "It would be great if we could raise $50,000 this year. It would be amazing."

She also mentioned the foundation has openings on its board of directors.

Meanwhile, the Batavia Kiwanis Club has taken another victims' program under its wing -- trying to raise $150,000 to help the Child Advocacy Center move into a building the Justice for Children Foundation would own. The CAC would then lease the building at a nominal rate, saving the agency significant money on annual rent.

The Kiwanis are sponsoring a "Bidding on a Brighter Future" Gala and Auction on Sept. 17 at Batavia Downs. Tickets are $40 per person and $75 per couple.  

The Kiwanis are also still looking for donations from local businesses for the auction.

August 18, 2011 - 7:50pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, pembroke, Genesee Justice, foreign exchange students.

Valeriya Melnichuk, a foreign exchange student who worked as an intern for Genesee Justice over the summer, will return to her home in Kyrgyzstan with a few big impressions of Batavia.

First, the people are friendly.

Also, in her time at Genesee Justice, she saw first-hand the benefits of educating drunken drivers about the dangers of DWI.

Genesee Justice also opened her eyes to ways her own country's justice system could better assist victims of crime.

And one observation that might not surprise some readers: American sure go easy on their criminals.

The 19-year-old Melnichuk is a student at American University in Central Asia. She is majoring in international and comparative politics with a minor in law.

She speaks Russian, Kyrgyz, French and English, and her English is nearly flawless.

Her first visit to Genesee County was in 2008 when she was an exchange student at Pembroke High School.

When she graduates she hopes to work in her home country on public policy, particularly as it relates to law.

The internship at Genesee Justice, she thought, would give her a perspective on how policy devised at one level of government impacts local government.

For example, the provision of Leandra's Law that requires convicted drunken drivers to install ignition interlock devices could have used a little more policy study before being implemented, Melnichuk said.

The law, while well intended, will eventually bankrupt the interlock device companies, she said, because it's too easy for drivers to claim they can't afford the devices, and if a judge agrees, the device is provided and installed at the expense of the company.

"There's too many people who get them for free," Melnichuk said. "They tell the judge they can't afford it, but they drive a nice car and they can afford to get drunk. I see the good idea in it, but they're too easy to get for free."

Two ideas that Melnichuk would like to take back to Kyrgyzstan are rooted in the restorative justice mission of Genesee Justice.

First, Melnichuk she thinks that it's a good idea to require people convicted of DWI to be educated on the dangers of DWI, to have their progress monitored and to require them to do some community service.

"It's not just letting people pay a fine or go to jail," she said. "They have to think about what they've done."

Second, she believes it's a good idea to provide a victim assistance program. Genesee Justice helps victims understand the criminal justice system, walks victims through court proceedings and ensures they get restitution.

She recalled one case this summer where a poor family in Batavia that relies strictly on bicycles for transportation, had a son's bike stolen.

Genesee Justice, while looking for a donated bike, found the stolen bike and returned it to the boy.

"That's a small thing, but it helps a lot," she said.

It's also a part of small-town life that Melnichuk, who comes from a city of one million people, came to appreciate.

In Genesee County, almost everybody knows somebody else that you know, and people are friendlier.

"It's not like my home city or New York City, where everybody is in a hurry," Melnichuk said. "Here people will smile and say hello even if they don't know you. In the city, you rush through and it's good if you still have your purse after you run through a crowd."

Still, Melnichuk is surprised at the seemingly light sentences convicted criminals get in New York.

She said maybe it's just the way she was raised -- strict parents who gave her the freedom to pursue her dreams, but required discipline, or a school system that required uniforms and wouldn't allow students to talk during class or sass teachers -- but she thinks the sentences given to convicts are pretty minimal.

"Your prisons are pretty nice," Melnichuk said. "Compared to back home, they're a lot nicer. And here, some person will commit some horrible crime and they'll get just seven years. Me, I would have given them 25 years."

With her internship nearly done, the observations made and the lesson's learned, Melnichuk is ready to return home a week from Sunday, but she said she has really enjoyed her time in Batavia.

April 28, 2011 - 9:33pm
posted by Brittany Baker in batavia, Genesee Justice, Frederick Rarick.

Frederick Rarick is licensed to practice law in California, Washington, D.C., and New York but, as he says, an "exceptionally equitable justice system" keeps him here as a defense attorney in Genesee County.

"I just like this area because you know the judges and prosecutors are fair and the system here works really well," he said, sitting at a desk in his office at 4152 W. Main St. Road (behind the Valu Plaza).

His large work space is filled with an eclectic collection of antique-looking furniture and various authentic war helmets. He began collecting them when his son grew interested in the hobby and their numbers have grown since. They're currently seeking out a particular WWII helmet to add to the gallery.

"I do a lot of work in here Genesee County," Rarick said. "We’re blessed with a district attorney’s office that is very easy to work with. They are just and equitable. They come from a prosecution side and I come from a defense side but we’re usually able to come to a fair resolution and it makes things so much easier for everyone involved."

April 13, 2011 - 3:32pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice.

The first formal donation, $1,000 from the Genesee County Bar Association, was made to Genesee Justice today.

Even though the nonprofit corporation for Genesee Justice is not yet approved by the IRS -- it's a lengthy process -- the American Baptist Church, Genesee Region, has agreed to act on behalf of Genesee Justice to accept tax-deductible donations.

Last year, about $100,000 was slashed by the Genesee County Legislature from the Genesee Justice budget. With staff taking cuts in hours and Director Ed Minardo resigning his position, the plan worked out with the legislature and the legal community was for Genesee Justice to become funded in part by new grants and donations.

"Funding is just getting very tough, hence we started this foundation to start looking for alternative means of support for this work," said Jane Schmider, president of the new Genesee Justice Foundation.

When the suggestion was made that the programs of Genesee Justice might be turned over to the Probation Department, judges and attorneys -- both prosecutors and defense -- came out in force to support Genesee Justice.

"It was in November 2010 when our organization passed a resolution overwhelmingly objecting to the merger based on the knowledge of the practitioners," said Bar Association President Durin Rogers. "The donation today continues that support."

Alan Newton, executive minister for the American Baptist Church, Genesee Region, said part of the reason the church board stepped forward to help is because restorative justice and reconciliation are a big part of the regional church's mission.

"Godly justice, respect and reconciliation," Newton said. "Those are common themes through our churches in the Genesee Region."

The Genesee Justice Foundation will need to work quickly to raise sufficient funds to save the pioneering restorative justice program, and Schmider said the board is looking at a variety of ways to raise money, including from big donors and possibly a membership program.

"I have no assurances (for 2012) other than that the plan we came up with last year was temporary," said Tiffany Szymanek, assistant director of Genesee Justice. "We know we have to come up with that money regardless. If some of that does come from the county that would be absolutely beneficial to us, but we still have to be aware that that might not happen."

To donate: Make checks payable to American Baptist Church of the Rochester/Genesee Region, with "Genesee Justice" in the note field. Mail to Genesee Justice, 14 W. Main St., Batavia, NY 14020.

Photo, from left, Jane Schmider, Alan Newton, Durin Rogers and Tiffany Szymanek.

March 14, 2011 - 6:52pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice.

The Genesee Justice Foundation can now accept your donations.

The foundation was formed in the wake of the County Legislature nearly shuttering the pioneering restorative justice program when writing the 2010-11 county budget.

Only after then-director Ed Minardo resigned and staff agreed to cut back its hours was the program saved, but with the intent of creating a nonprofit fundraising arm.

The cuts saved $100,000, and that's how much the foundation must raise in 2011 to keep Genesee Justice going and restore staffing levels.

Some of that revenue may come from a grant the county's Job Development Bureau is applying for this week.

Both the Genesee Justice Foundation and the Child Advocacy Foundation have 501(c)3 (nonprofit) status pending, but until granted, the American Baptist Churches of Genesee County have agreed to accept donations on the behalf of the Genesee Justice Foundation.

Tiffany Szymanek, assistant director of Genesee Justice, delivered a report on the status of Genesee Justice on Monday afternoon to the legislature's Public Service Committee.

Szymanek said the agency is managing to do more with less, however.

Genesee Justice's case load is up significantly over a year ago.

Currently, Genesee Justice has 183 people in its offender programs, compared to 127 at this time last year, and 91 people, compared to 54 a year ago, are doing community service.

"It's harder than it was last year, but we're keeping up," Szymanek said.

In effort to save money, GJ renegotiated its lease, knocking down its rent on the former Sheriff's Office on West Main Street from $1,500 per month to $1,200 per month. (See clarification below)

Most of that savings came because GJ agreed to take over its own lawn maintenance and snow removal.

The Batavia Kiwanis have adopted Genesee Justice as its annual project, and besides raising funds for GJ, the club has volunteered to help with lawn service and snow removal.

"We also have community service workers," Szymanek said.

The new foundation is being headed by Jane Schmider, president, and Mike Mohun, vice president.

As for the job development grant, that money would be used to fund a program to provide job training to young offenders (18-24). While the grant would come through the county's Job Development Bureau, GJ would administer the program. The grant could restore most of the staff's hours.

After Minardo resigned, a part-time position with Genesee Justice became vacant and Minardo took on the DWI conditional release tasks.

Szymanek said the foundation is eager for donations either from individuals or corporations. She said she will also be working on additional grant applications.

If the foundation is successful in fundraising, the annual revenue would be allocated to the county to cover Genesee Justice expenses and the legislature would decide how to budget the department.

Legislator Bob Radley asked Szymanek to provide a document showing revenue benchmarks and information on fundraising efforts.

Mary Pat Hancock, chair of the legislature, wondered how far along the fundraising effort was going.

"On paper, I understand the intent is to raise $100,000, but that's not the same as raising $100,000," Hancock said.

Szymanek said she will start providing a progress report on fundraising.

There will be a fundraiser for the Child Advocacy Foundation March 24 at Tully's.

CLARIFICATIONS: The lease issue and snow removal/lawn refers only to the Child Advocacy Center at 108 Bank St.  Also, both Kiwansis and American Baptist boards still need to vote to approve their organizations' participation in supporting Genesee Justice.

January 14, 2011 - 2:52pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice.

Ed Minardo, the former director of Genesee Justice, who sacrificed his management job in order to help save the pioneering restorative justice program, is back at work.

It's a part-time job and not a supervisor's position, but Minardo is back in a role helping handle DWI conditional release cases.

The 19.5-hour position became available on Jan. 1 when another member of the staff quit, County Manager Jay Gsell told WBTA. Minardo was hired by the Sheriff's Office, which oversees Genesee Justice, to fill the position.

"Ed, of course, is familiar with the programs, and with the DWI program," said Sheriff Gary Maha. "He's already had his background investigation completed, he's already been fingerprinted...it just makes sense that if he was interested, we'd hire him.

"It's a win-win situation for us."

For more on the story from WBTA, click here.

December 23, 2010 - 5:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Genesee Justice.

With a $2,000 donation from an unnamed local attorney, the Genesee Justice Foundation has been born.

At a meeting on Dec. 17, according to a press release, nine community members gathered to start the process of forming a nonprofit corporation in order to raise money to pay for a fully functional restorative justice program in Genesee County.

The pioneering program was threatened with elimination earlier because of the county's' budget crunch. The program was saved, at least temporarily, when director Ed Minardo offered to accept a layoff and current Genesee Justice staff members agreed to reduced hours.

The cuts eliminated approximately $100,000 in expenses, giving Genesee Justice at least a one-year reprieve.

The initial donation will help cover start-up costs for the foundation.

Anyone interested in joining the effort to save Genesee Justice, or to donate, can contact Jane Schmider, (585) 738-8292.

For previous coverage, click here.

December 7, 2010 - 1:07pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, Genesee Justice.

Ed Minardo will be out of a job come Jan. 1, but Genesee Justice will carry on.

"It was certainly in my mind, 'Not on my watch,'" Minardo said after learning that County Manager Jay Gsell would recommend to the legislature that Minardo's plan to cut staff hours and eliminate his own job be approved.

And the legislature did just that Monday evening.

"I didn't want to see Genesee Justice and the great history of Judge Call (former Sheriff Doug Call) and Dennis (Wittman, founding GJ director), and the love and caring they put into it, evaporate into a memory."

Minardo said he was also motivated by the firm support Genesee Justice received from the legal community, including defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges.

"That's one of the things that made me fight so hard," Minardo said. "There was an unprecedented outpouring of support from what is supposed to be a formal legal community. The were going outside their comfort zones to express appreciation for the programs we run and the good work of our staff."

With approval of the labor union representing staff at Genesee Justice signing off on the plan to reduce work ours, Gsell was apparently able to find enough cost savings to make Minardo's plan "budget neutral," meaning it won't increase expenses for the county.

When Gsell first presented his draft budget to the legislature, it called for closing Genesee Justice as a division of the Sheriff's Office and moving many of its functions to the probation department.

At a public hearing, members of the legal community and crime victims assisted by Genesee Justice came forward and encouraged the legislature to protect the pioneering restorative justice program.

Next up for Minardo: Put together a non-profit foundation that will raise money to fill the budget gap for full Genesee Justice operations, including reinstating his job as director.

Previous Coverage.

December 6, 2010 - 12:49pm
posted by Billie Owens in Genesee Justice, CSEU, ed minardo.

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell has told WBTA that the Civil Service Employees Union has agreed to a pay cut for Genesee Justice employees.

He also said that Genesee Justice Director Ed Minardo's proposal is "revenue neutral" and therefore likely to be approved by the county legislature when it meets this afternoon.

Minardo has offered to give up his job as head of GJ to help save the organization.

December 2, 2010 - 3:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in CSEA, Genesee Justice.

Debbie Long, president of the union that represents county workers, will meet with county officials tomorrow to get details about a proposal to cut employee hours at Genesee Justice.

The proposal by GJ Director Ed Minardo would eliminate his own job and cut the remaining staff's hours, saving more than $100,000 and cutting the budget gap substantially -- though not completely -- thereby potentially saving the pioneering restorative justice agency.

"We're going in with an open mind," Long said. "We're willing to listen to anything that would save county employee jobs. We want to see the details. We obviously don't want to set a precedent for the whole union."

Legislators heard Minardo's plan for the first time Wednesday night and reacted with caution. There was the issue of whether CSEA would sign off on it, but also the plan needs to be "budget neutral," members said. That means another $12,000 in savings must be found so that there's no increase in county spending.

If the plan is approved -- which the legislature will meet again at 5 p.m., Monday -- Minardo plans to work on forming a foundation that could receive donations in order to cover future funding gaps.

For previous coverage of Genesee Justice, click here.

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