Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program Keynote Address_Part 2

Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program Keynote Address_Part 2

Today’s post is the second in a 4-part post of the keynote address I offered at last week’s Lancaster Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (LAVORP) Annual Dinner

If you missed Part 1, here’s the link


Let me get back to the quilt story . . . and another question it raises. That is the question of who we might involve in RJ efforts.

WHO might we involve in Restorative Justice efforts?

I mentioned that those seven women had something important in common: each of their lives had been radically altered by violence in the form of murder. Aside from that common thread, they were a pretty diverse group: young, old and middle-aged; black & white; married, single, divorced & gay.

But there was another profound difference between them.

Several of them had loved ones who had been murdered.

Several others had loved ones who had committed murder and been sentenced to death.

The murder cases themselves were completely unrelated, so bringing these women together was not about “victim offender reconciliation.” When one of the organizers was searching for resources for their group, it appeared that no other groups of completely unrelated families of victims and families of offenders even existed. Together, those women designed a new pattern for thinking about who we might involve in restorative justice processes.

There’s still more to their story.

But I’d like to mention a few other programs that also got me thinking about this question of who we involve in restorative justice efforts:

  • In a cellblock at the Southside Regional Jail in Virginia, inmates and prison guards are collaborating to create a positive, encouraging, respectful community within the cellblock. What I found most unique is that it’s the inmates who lead this effort and carry the day-to-day responsibility for fostering wholeness and addressing any harms that occur within that community. Every man in the cellblock is accountable to everyone else. When conflicts arise between men on the block, everyone in that cellblock community participates in a circle dialogue to help them work things out peacefully.


  • At the Center for Nonviolence in Fort Wayne, Indiana, men who have battered women are engaged in an intensive program where they take accountability for their actions, learn victims’ perspectives on the impact of battering, and learn skills for changing and controlling their own behavior in the future. This program, which has been in existence for 30 years, was one of the first batterer intervention programs in the US.


  • At Campbell University Law School, students run a community victim offender mediation program. The students receive mediation training through their classes at the law school then they manage and staff the mediation center. The beauty of this is in the way this experience is shaping the views of law school students to be advocates for a more restorative legal system. This experience will undoubtedly shape their work within the justice system for years to come.


  • One other example addresses a very different aspect of the justice system than we tend to think about in most restorative justice programs – and that is the harm caused through the criminal justice system itself when people are wrongfully convicted. Dr. Pamela Laughon, professor at UNC-Asheville, along with some of her students, investigates cases where people have been convicted and incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit. A couple of years ago, Dr Laughon and her students succeeded in proving the innocence of Edward Chapman, who had spent nearly 15 years on death row for two murders he did not commit.

On the day Edward was to finally be released from prison, he didn’t even know he was getting out until guards came to his cell, handed him a cardboard box and told him to pack up his few belongings. They walked him out the back door of the prison and released him, with no money, no apology and nowhere for him to go. I met and talked with Edward in my travels last year. He told me that Dr Laughon and other people in the community circled around him, to help him find a place to live and a job. As I listened to his story, it occurred to me that what they are doing is also restorative justice.

Prison inmates and guards. Men who have battered women. Law school students. A university professor.

Maybe not our typical ideas of WHO to involve in restorative justice processes. But all of these people are engaged in fostering wholeness, addressing harm and promoting healing in their communities.

WHEN might we apply restorative justice principles?

The last question I’d like for us to consider is when we apply restorative justice principles. Because the word “justice” is included, we tend to carry out many restorative processes after a crime has occurred and after harm has already been done.

But some of the people and places I visited got me wondering what it might look like to use restorative practices as a preventative approach in our schools, churches, neighborhoods, workplaces, and families . . .

(Stay tuned for their stories in PART 3, which will be posted here tomorrow)

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison restorative justice criminal justice book tour death penalty

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