Q. What is Mending Fences?
A. Mending Fences is a manualized 26 session, victim-oriented offender rehabilitation program that utilizes a restorative justice approach to bring “victim impact panels,” and community leaders into Virginia prisons for direct encounters with offenders a) to reduce the recidivism of program graduates and b) to facilitate the healing process of victim impact panel members and program participants.
Q. What is Restorative Justice, and how does it differ from the current form of justice?
A. Restorative justice is a set of principles that emphasizes repairing the harms caused, and often revealed, by criminal behavior. Crime is currently defined as an offense against the state. It is primarily focused with fixing blame on the offender, with the guiding questions being: What laws have been broken? Who did it? And what do they deserve? In contrast, restorative justice is concerned primarily with the victim. The guiding questions being: Who has been harmed? What are their needs? And whose obligations are these? Restorative justice is a paradigm shift in the understanding of crime as the breaking of a law against the State to the realization that crime is a wrong, injury, or violation against a person and community. Ideally, all such “stakeholders” should be given the opportunity to take part in the restorative process in order to heal and reconcile the damage caused.
Q. How is Mending Fences different from existing VADOC programs?
A. VADOC offers several valuable educational and rehabilitative programs ranging from adult literacy and vocational skills, to anger management and substance abuse education. However, none of these programs focus on the principles of restorative justice or facilitate encounters between offenders and victims of crime in order to allow program participants to understand the human impact of their actions and begin to empathize with those who have been harmed.
Q. Does Virginia have any existing or emerging Restorative Justice initiatives?
A. Yes, there are several initiatives within the Commonwealth ranging from restorative justice applications within the public school setting, to juvenile justice, as well as the adult correctional environment. There has been a groundswell of grass roots support for restorative justice. So much so that in 2009 Virginia Senate Resolution (no. 362) directed the Virginia State Crime Commission to study the various forms of restorative justice and its application within the Commonwealth.
Q. What are the results of the Virginia State Crime Commission Report on Restorative Justice?
A. The Crime Commission Report (Document no. 48) stated that restorative justice based programs showed promising outcomes for victims, offenders, and communities. As previously noted, there are varying programs and levels of application. Furthermore, the report clearly states that, "... the traditional approach to justice in Virginia can, at a minimum, be supplemented by some innovative, evidence-based restorative justice approaches". Mending Fences is one such innovative approach that is tailored to the adult correctional environment.
Q. Who composes the “Victim Impact Panels”?
A. Victim impact panels are composed of individuals and families who have been directly impacted by crime. Although they are not directly linked to offender participants, their stories of harm and healing are an invaluable tool for enabling offenders to understand the impact of their actions upon others. Mending Fences uses several avenues to source volunteers. Domestic violence prevention charities, victim advocacy groups, charitable causes such as M.A.D.D., Commonwealth Attorney offices, and local faith groups are all tapped in order to find willing volunteers who wish to take a pro-active role in crime prevention and enhancing community safety. Mending Fences is not bound strictly to these groups and willing volunteers from any walk of life are welcomed.
Q. Should Mending Fences be a required program?
A. No. In concurrence with the spirit of restorative justice, participation in Mending Fences should not be recommended, required, or mandated to any offender. Additionally, it should not be included in offender case plans.
Q. Who may participate?
A. Any offender incarcerated in the VADOC and desires to change for the better, is willing to make the commitment required, and has enough time remaining to serve in order to complete the Mending Fences program may participate. There are no other prerequisites, or restrictions.
Q. Can offenders reduce their sentence or receive any benefits for completing Mending Fences?
A. No, offenders cannot receive sentence credits for participating in Mending Fences. The only benefit they will gain is fulfillment in helping others heal and the tools to live a peaceful, productive, law abiding life.
Q. How long is Mending Fences?
A. Mending Fences is a 26 session program. In order for participants to complete assigned homework and journal entries, it is recommended that sessions are conducted on a weekly basis. Each session should be allotted a minimum of 90 minutes. This format requires a six month commitment from both participants and facilitators.