Restorative justice program facilitates dialogue between victims and offenders

By Audrey Posten

The term restorative justice is a theory that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by crime. In order to do so, programs focus on the needs of both victims and offenders, as well as the community involved.

For the past 13 years, the Ridge and Valley Restorative Justice program (formerly Crawford County Restorative Justice) has facilitated dialogue between crime victims and offenders, allowing victims to speak candidly with offenders and ask questions that were not answered through the justice system.

Coordinator Robin Cline said the program deals with roughly 20 adult and juvenile cases each year. Most referrals come from the court or the Department of Human Services, and are usually in addition to a fine or jail sentence.
“It’s not a way to get off easy,” Cline said. “It holds the offender accountable in ways the courts can’t.”

Cline said that vandalism, breaking and entering, theft and disorderly conduct are the most common crimes the program mediates over. It does not handle crimes like domestic abuse or sexual assault.

“A big number is breaking in and stealing money for drugs and alcohol,” Cline said. “It’s a tangled thing. It’s hard to make a dent in the addiction, but it gets the offender face-to-face with the victim.”

Cline said she and other program facilitators often discuss the ripple effect with offenders, demonstrating how the crime ripples out to the offender’s family and friends, then on to those of the victim, as well as the community as a whole.
Cline said most of the evaluations have been positive.

“It’s really eye opening for both sides,” she said. “It’s hard for victims to imagine that they should give something back to the offender, but they often give help, whether it’s helping them find community service opportunities or checking in with how school’s going. It’s all about accountability and preventing other crimes from happening.”

The number of mediation meetings varies depending on circumstances, but Cline said there is usually a prep meeting to see if the mediation can move forward, followed by one meeting with each party, then one together.
By the end, Cline said, victims feel more empowered and offenders are more prepared to healthily integrate back into the community.

However, Ridge and Valley Restorative Justice does more than victim/offender mediation. The program also offers family group conferencing, community mediation, victim impact panels and prison programming.

When the program first began, it was called Crawford County Restorative Justice. However, since the program was not being funded by Crawford County, and other area counties without programs were seeking assistance, Cline said Ridge and Valley was a more inclusive, regional term. The program now serves Crawford, Grant, Vernon and other area counties.

Cline said funding for the program has dwindled over the years, so it is largely held together by fundraising, as well as contributions from entities like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the United Way. Cline is the program’s only employee, and she just works part-time. She relies on 15 trained volunteer facilitators for help, along with 30 to 40 other volunteers who help with fundraising and administrative tasks.

The program also welcomes new volunteers and volunteer facilitators. Cline said there is no facilitator training session currently scheduled, but that, with enough interest, one could be formed.

“Crime impacts the community as a whole,” Cline said, “so both victims and offenders need the community to help them heal and move forward.”

Those who would like to volunteer, or are interested in learning more, can contact Ridge and Valley Restorative Justice at (608) 326-2407 or ridge.valleyrestorativejustice@gmail.com.

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