Restorative justice seeks to bring together victims and offenders
Restoring justice and healing the hurt caused by crime sounds like a big task but it's one Kris Miner has enthusiastically signed on for.
As director of the St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice program for St. Croix and Pierce counties she works toward bridging the gap between victim and offender in an effort to focus on the harms of a crime rather than just the laws broken.
The mission statement at SCVRJP is, "to build and sustain a culture of peace and belonging utilizing restorative justice principles and programs in our community."
The non-profit organization, which relies largely on public donations, will mark its 10-year anniversary in February.
Services offered at SCVRJP include victim impact panels, underage consumption panels, controlled substance circles, community conferencing, victim empathy seminars, safe teen driving circles, training, workshops and presentations.
"It might sound counterproductive to have victims and offenders sit down in a group and face each other, but it works," said Miner.
She said that talking circles conducted at the River Falls headquarters where the issues of a particular incident are addressed deal with an important prospective. "Most offenders see themselves as victims and don't realize or understand the harm they have done to the victim and the community," Miner said.
The program seeks to support offenders while encouraging them to understand, accept and carry out their obligations by teaching responsibility and accountability, she said.
The circle talks, Miner says are, "New wine from old vines," and have existed in divergent cultures from ancient times, particularly the indigenous people in North American.
The circle creates a confidential, respectful setting where communication is structured. Trained restorative justice facilitators and community members are also circle members, a SCVRJP handout explains.
"I like the program," said Pam Bellrichard, Victim-Witness Coordinator for the St. Croix County district attorney's office. "It is beneficial for the victims who choose to participate in it."
Bellrichard gave special praise to the victim impact panels that deal with convicted drunk drivers.
Liesl Nelson, attorney manager at the state public defender's office in Hudson that serves Pierce and St. Croix counties, said restorative justice programs are best as an alternative to prosecution ordered by the court rather than an add-on to probation and a jail sentence.
"We need to sort better and send the right people to the right programs," she said.
Nelson is supportive of the restorative justice programs that place the victim and offender together. "A lot of offenders really want to apologize to the victim," she said.
Nelson said the courtroom isn't the best forum for an offender to apologize to the victim and it always carries the stigma of whether the defendant was sincere or just doing it to influence his sentence.
In short, restorative justice programs have value. "We can't fine or jail our way out of bad behavior," she said.
Miner, 42, a self described "farm girl from South Dakota" has a master's in counseling and bachelor's in mass communication. She began working with the SCVRJP in 2001 as a member of the board of directors. She took over the helm in 2005. "I signed on and I fell in love (with the program). I wanted to do this full time," she said.
For more information on SCVRJP contact the Restorative Justice Center, 215 N. Second St., Suite 108, River Falls, WI 54026, telephone: (715) 425-1100 or on the web: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.scvrjp.org.