Mission

The mission of Mending Fences is to improve public safety and reduce recidivism in the Commonwealth by instituting the principles of restorative justice in the lives of offenders in the Virginia Department of Corrections.  As a victim-oriented offender rehabilitation program, Mending Fences seeks to heal the harms of crime utilizing a multifaceted evidence based approach.  This program will enable offenders to comprehend the impact of their actions upon victims, their families, and the community. Mending Fences promotes accountability by offenders for their actions, empathy for their victims, and healing for all involved.

Session 13 – EMPATHY

Goals:

The current retributive justice model encourages offenders to focus on their own legal situation. Victims have been insulated from the offender by an elaborate labyrinth of attorney and court officials which precludes offenders from seeing the real human cost of their actions. Having had direct encounters with the previous three victim speakers, participants should have began breaking down the figurative walls that insulate themselves from their victims. Once these obstacles have been overcome, participants should develop a more complete understanding of what they have done and the hurt and harm caused to their victims. More importantly, they will have begun to empathize with their victims, thereby encouraging future lawful behavior.

The nurturing of empathy is of paramount importance in the process of rehabilitation, reconciliation, and restoration. Session 13 will provide Mending Fences participants with the following tools:

An understanding of the definition and elements of empathy.
The ability to recognize the feelings and experiences of those who have been harmed.
A comprehension of the transformative value of empathy and how it is applicable to their lives.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Check for completion of homework from Session 12.

3. Ask whether there are any questions or discussion points from previous sessions that should be addressed.

4. Presentation and discussion on Developing Empathy and Personal Transformation.

5. Preview Session 14 guest speaker.

6. Assignment of homework questions. RE: Guest Speaker

Personal Journal:

Begin writing your personal story, utilizing the outline in your Mending Fences Study Guide.

Homework:


Participants will be expected to draft questions for the guest speaker whom they will encounter in the following session.

Session 10 – ANSWERS

Goals:

A substantial portion of Mending Fences is allotted to encounters with victims of diverse offenses. Utilizing encounters with multiple victims of crime enables participants to reflect upon the various experiences of harm and healing by real people. Furthermore, participants are encouraged to talk about their own feelings of remorse and responsibility, thereby offering symbolic vindication to victim speakers. The aim of guest speaking sessions are to:

Provide victim speakers an opportunity to feel they are doing something to help alter offender behavior.
Allow participants to recognize, acknowledge, and validate victim suffering and feelings of injustice.
Make it possible for both victim and offender participants to satisfy some of the preconditions for healing: empowerment, truthtelling, answering of questions, and a sense of reassurance.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Introduction of guest speaker.

3. Victim presentation.

4. Question and answer session.

5. Preview Session 11 guest speaker.

6. Assignment of homework questions. RE: Guest Speaker

Personal Journal:

Write about a few situations in which you have been hurt or offended. How did you feel on these occasions?

Homework:

Participants will be expected to draft questions for the guest speaker whom they will encounter in the following session.

Session 8 – RESPONSIBILITY

Goals:

A key element of both restorative justice and offender rehabilitation is the acknowledgment of responsibility by the offender. Throughout the adversarial criminal justice process offenders are inadvertently discouraged from admitting guilt. Contrary to the existing prison culture that promotes a pattern of self-serving behavior, Mending Fences affords participants a forum in which they are encouraged to accept sincere responsibility for their actions. Participants will learn in Session 8 that they are personally responsible for:

Their individual choices.
Taking the initiative to repair the harms they have caused to the extent possible.
Addressing the root causes of their behavior.
Taking steps that will establish sustained lawful behavior.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Check for completion of homework assignment from Session 7.

3. Presentation and discussion on Responsibility.

4. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Accountability

Personal Journal:

Describe a situation in which you failed to accept responsibility for your actions. How did you avoid or deflect blame from yourself?

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning the necessity of offender accountability. Completion of this assignment will be expected prior to Session 9.

Session 20 – COMMUNITY

Goals:

Six sessions of Mending Fences have been dedicated to guest speakers and enabling participants to understand the direct impact of their actions on victims. Although more abstract, the concept of the indirect impact of crime upon the public must be addressed. It is incumbent upon offenders to understand and acknowledge their responsibilities to the community. Session 20 introduces Mending Fences participants to members of the local community. These speakers will voice their story in an effort to convey to offenders the far reaching affects of criminal behavior. Mending Fences will introduce participants to local community members in order to:

Provide a forum for productive dialogue between the community and offenders.
Allow the community an actual voice in the justice process in hopes of changing offender behavior.
Identify commonalities between the community and offenders, thereby illustrating the offender’s role as part of the community.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Introduction of guest speakers.

3. Community speakers’ presentation.

4. Question and answer session.

5. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Peace Building and Introduction to Group Community Project.

Personal Journal:

After listening to the community speakers’ detail the ways that crime has impacted them, write about some of the harm you have caused to your local community. How do you plan to repair this harm?

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning peace building. Additionally, they will be challenged to begin considering ideas for the coming Joint Community Service Project. Completion of the homework assignment will be expected by Session 21.

A Program Framework for Victim-Oriented Offender Rehabilitation


By

Shawn Weneta

&

Dustin Turner


Session 19 – RESTITUTION

Goals:

When crime occurs an imbalance is created. A retributive model seeks to right the imbalance by lowering the offender to the level of which the victim has been reduced. In contrast, a restorative justice model aims to elevate the victim to their original or normal state. This session will explore the topic of restitution; what it is, the many forms it can take, who is responsible, and in what manners it can be made. Upon completion of Session 19, Mending Fences participants will understand the following:

What restitution is and is not.
How violations create obligations.
What actions one can take to make amends.
The difference between direct and indirect restitution.
That satisfying one’s court ordered sentence does not necessarily alleviate one’s obligations to the victim or the community.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Verify completion of homework from Session 18.

3. Ask whether there are any questions or discussion points from previous sessions that should be addressed.

4. Presentation and discussion on Restitution.

5. Preview Session 20 guest speakers.

6. Assignment of homework questions. RE: Guest Speakers

Personal Journal:

List some specific acts you can do to make amends or pay back your debts while in prison. List some specific actions you can or should take after your release. How do you believe these actions will affect those involved?

Homework:

Participants will be expected to draft questions for the guest speakers whom they will encounter in the following session.

Session 3 – CRIME

 Goals:

Session 3 will give participants an objective view of crime and it’s far reaching effects. The group discussion will focus on the definition of crime, its principle causes as well as the associated tangible and quantifiable losses. Furthermore, this session will address the harms of crime along with so-called “victimless” offenses. Therefore, the objectives of Session 3 are to have participants understand:

What crime is.
The financial and economic impact of crime.
The effect of offending behavior on family and community.
Various types of harms that crime brings about.
The direct and indirect consequences of their actions.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Check for completion of apology letters from Session 1 as well as Session 2 homework assignment.

3. Presentation and discussion on Crime.

4. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Imbalance and Conflict

Personal Journal:

Write to a family member or friend and tell him or her about the various situations and decisions you made in your life that led to your incarceration.

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning Imbalance and Conflict, its origins, identification, and resolutions. They will be expected to complete the reading and questions prior to Session 4.

Session 12 – OWNING UP

Goals:

Acknowledgement of faults and harms caused is a meaningful step in the process of reconciliation and restoration. It crosses into all aspects of life and is the first step outlined in several rehabilitation programs. The confession of one’s actions to another holds significant value in initiating healing for both offenders and victims. Confession holds value in many arenas. For Mending Fences participants owning up to and being honest with themselves is encouraged. Many people find worth and comfort in confession through faith, spirituality, or to a higher power. This may give them a sense of spiritual absolution or redemption. In this session, Mending Fences fosters an in depth discussion regarding the healing value of owning up to the harms caused by participants, various avenues of confession and who they should confess to. Participants can expect to learn:

The healing value of confession.
Who they should consider owning up to.
When and how they can confess.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Review Session 11 homework assignment.

3. Presentation and discussion on Owning Up, Confession, and Spirituality.

4. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Empathy

Personal Journal:

Is there any value in confessing if there is no plan to change your behavior? How does your pride affect your willingness to own up to your actions? How do denial, rationalization, and deflecting blame prevent confession?

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning transformation and the development of empathy. They will be expected to complete the reading and questions prior to session 13.

Objectives

The Mission and Goals of Mending Fences will be successfully achieved by accomplishing the following objectives:

Educate participants in restorative justice principles and practices.
Facilitate direct encounters between offenders and victim impact panels, in order for victims to voice their stories of harm and healing.
Identify various methods of restitution that can be made by participants, and initiate restorative joint community service projects.
Emphasize the extensive value of healthy relationships between offenders and their communities of care.
Provide participants with social skills and coping mechanisms that may be applied while incarcerated as well as after release from custody.
Intense self-evaluation and introspection by participants through group dialogue and personal journal entries.



Session 9 – ACCOUNTABILITY

Goals:

This session will explore the restorative value of offender accountability. By identifying victim needs, participants will take steps toward fulfilling the burden of obligation to those they have harmed. Participants will seek out both direct and indirect avenues in which they may provide restitution and community service from within the correctional setting as well as after their release from custody. Specifically, at the conclusion of this session participants will understand:

How punishment is not synonymous with accountability.
That each victim has their own unique set of needs.
Various manners in which they may demonstrate accountability for their actions.
The benefits of genuine accountability to the offender.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Verify completion of homework assignment from Session 8.

3. Ask whether there are any questions or discussion points from previous sessions that should be addressed.

4. Presentation and discussion on Accountability.

5. Assignment of homework questions. RE: Guest Speaker

Personal Journal:

What direct and/or indirect actions can you take – both in prison and after your release – to accept personal accountability for the offense you are incarcerated for? How do you believe this will benefit yourself and others?

Homework:

Participants will be expected to draft questions for the guest speaker whom they will encounter in the following session.

Session 15 – FORGIVENESS

Goals:

The act of forgiveness cannot be willed or forced. Many victims will never be able to forgive the harm done to them, nor should they feel a burden to do so. Several preconditions exist in order to experience the healing power of forgiveness. An expression of responsibility, regret, and repentance by the offender, the support of family and community, and an experience of justice may all be required before a victim can grace someone who harmed them with the blessing of forgiveness. It is equally important to stress that offender responsibilities persist even after forgiveness is granted. This session aims to provide participants with opportunities for forgiveness, both symbolic and through acts of empowered healing. By allowing offenders a venue in which they may examine their own experiences of victimization, Mending Fences gives participants the keys to forgive themselves for their actions in order to move forward in a purposeful and meaningful manner. Furthermore, Session 15 will explore our need to forgive ourselves, and our need to forgive others. The objectives for this session are to:

Have participants move towards forgiving those who have harmed them.
Explore ways in which to ask those whom they have harmed for forgiveness.
Identify their ongoing responsibilities to those who have been harmed.
Recognize what conditions must be met in order to be forgiven.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Review the homework assignment from Session 14

3. Presentation and discussion on Forgiveness.

4. Preview Session 16 guest speaker.

5. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Guest Speaker

Personal Journal:

Conclude writing your personal story, utilizing the outline in your Mending Fences Study Guide.

Homework:

Participants will be expected to draft questions for the guest speaker whom they will encounter in the following session.

Session 7 – IMPACT

Goals:

Sessions 1 through 6 should have helped participants begin to develop empathy and to see their own behavior through the eyes of victims and society as a whole. Session 7 will include an extensive dialogue and review of the Mending Fences’ concepts introduced thus far. Reflection on the previous session speaker as well as discussion of personal journal entries will enhance participants’ understanding of the impact of their actions on others. This session will also provide an opportunity for participants to weigh some of the difficult emotions they may have encountered during the victim presentation. The objectives of this session are for participants to:

Reflect upon Session 6 and the speaker presentation.
Comprehend the impact of offending behavior.
Evaluate and discuss any potential shift in understanding of victims and negative thinking patterns.
Voluntarily share and discuss any personal journal entries participants wish to discuss with the group.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Discussion of Session 6 guest speaker.

3. Open group dialogue concerning sessions 1 through 6 and the nexus between these concepts.

4. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Responsibility

Personal Journal:

After reflecting upon your recent journal entries and face to face encounter with a victim of crime, how has your perception changed? In what manner will this affect you moving forward?

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning responsibility as it relates to crime and conflict. They will be expected to complete the reading and questions prior to Session 8.

Session 16 – EMPOWERMENT

Goals:

A substantial portion of Mending Fences is allotted to encounters with victims of diverse offenses. Utilizing encounters with multiple victims of crime enables participants to reflect upon the various experiences of harm and healing by real people. Furthermore, participants are encouraged to talk about their own feelings of remorse and responsibility, thereby offering symbolic vindication to victim speakers. The aim of guest speaking sessions are to:

Provide victim speakers an opportunity to feel they are doing something to help alter offender behavior.
Allow participants to recognize, acknowledge, and validate victim suffering and feelings of injustice.
Make it possible for both victim and offender participants to satisfy some of the preconditions for healing: empowerment, truthtelling, answering of questions, and a sense of reassurance.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Introduction of guest speaker.

3. Victim presentation.

4. Question and answer session.

5. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Reconciliation

Personal Journal:

Write a letter to someone that you have hurt (other than the victim of the crime for which you are incarcerated for) asking them for forgiveness.

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning reconciliation. They will be expected to complete the reading and questions prior to session 17.

Session 22 – HITTING HOME

Goals:

Session 22 brings participants in contact with the final guest speakers of the program. Several sessions were dedicated to victims and allowing them to relay to participants the direct impact crime has had on their lives. Session 20 enabled community leaders to articulate the indirect ways in which criminal behavior affects the community as a whole. These final guest speakers introduced in this session, will be family members of current or former inmates (not at the program facility) who will speak about the many ways crime has affected them and what the financial, emotional, and family impact has been. Having and caring for an incarcerated family member is a major investment of time, emotion, and often money. Many offenders do not take into consideration the great sacrifice their family and loved ones feel obligated to provide.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Introduction of guest speaker(s).

3. Speaker presentation.

4. Question and answer session.

Personal Journal:

This session’s speaker(s) should have helped you understand the perspective of the affect incarceration has had on an inmate’s family and loved ones. Taking this into consideration, has your outlook towards your family and loved ones changed? Please explain.

Homework:

Participants will be asked to review the apology letter that they wrote to their victim following Session 1. Utilizing the points below they will re-draft this letter while taking into consideration what they have learned during Mending Fences. Some of the points that will be emphasized are:

Acknowledgement of harm caused.
Responsibility for this hurt.
Accountability to the victim.
How the offender is repentant.
Asking for forgiveness.
Reparation and restitution plan.

Mending Fences

Session 6 – THE REALITY

Goals:

An essential facet of a restorative justice program is enabling offenders to understand the experience of a crime from the victim’s point of view. By facilitating direct encounters between victims and program participants, Mending Fences provides a forum for victims to voice their personal experience. This can aid in bringing about healing and a sense of closure to those who have been harmed. Additionally, such conferences have proven to be an effective method of fostering genuine accountability and empathy among offenders. The aim of this presentation is to:

Allow participants to understand how the speaker felt when he or she was harmed.
Illustrate what effects these events had on the speaker’s life.
Detail who else was harmed by this offense and the manner in which they were affected.
Support participant’s understanding of the logical connection between concepts studied in the previous sessions.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Introduction of guest speaker.

3. Victim presentation.

4. Question and answer section.

5. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Impact

Personal Journal:

What are some of the feelings and emotions that the speaker experienced when they were harmed? How did they cope with them? Compare and contrast these emotions and coping methods with those of your previous journal entry.

Homework:

        Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning the impact that criminal behavior has on others. They will be expected to complete the homework prior to Session 7.

Mending Fences Curriculum Agenda

Session

Topic

Objective


Session 1

Orientation

To introduce the facilitators, study guide, concept, and format of the program.

 Session 2

Restorative Justice Principles

To provide participants with working knowledge of Restorative Justice.

Session 3

Crime

To illustrate and define crime, its effects, and consequences.


Session 4

Imbalance of Conflict

To identify various types of conflict and provide tools for resolution.


Session 5

Victimology

To identify the impact upon and needs of crime victims.


Session 6

The Reality

To introduce the power of stories and their role in healing.


Session 7

Impact

To review and discuss subject nature and emotions experienced thus far.


Session 8

Responsibility

To define and understand responsibility after an offense.

Session 9

Accountability

To define and understand accountability after an offense.


Session 10

Answers

To provide panel members an opportunity to tell their story of harm and healing.


Session 11

Vindication

To acknowledge and validate victim suffering and feelings of injustice.


Session 12

Owning Up

To illustrate the power and value of confession.

Session 13

Empathy

To understand the transformative value of empathy.

Session 14

Reassurance

To empower and reassure impact panel members.


Session 15

Forgiveness

To recognize and define the preconditions for forgiveness.


Session 16

Empowerment

To provide answers and empower impact panel members.


Session 17

Reconciliation

To identify manners in which participants may reconcile with others.


Session 18

Equity

To identify and acknowledge common needs of offender and victim participants.


Session 19

Restitution

To illustrate the various types of restitution and ongoing obligations of participants.


Session 20

Community

To provide a forum for dialogue between community members and offenders.


Session 21

Peace Building

To explore ways in which participants may contribute to the community.

Session 22

Hitting Home

To illustrate the impact of offender actions and imprisonment on offender’s family.


Session 23

The Letter

To take the first step toward meaningful dialogue with those who were harmed.


Session 24

Joint Community Service Project

To establish and maintain a healthy and productive relationship with the community.


Session 25

Closure

To review, share, and reflect on the common journey of participants.


Session 26

Graduation

To acknowledge and celebrate the hard work and future of participants.

FAQ's

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.  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.

Session 17 – RECONCILIATION

Goals:

Thus far Mending Fences participants have dedicated a great deal of time towards introspection and self-analysis. This should have provided them with a foundation to begin striving towards reconciliation. While reconciliation is not necessarily a requirement for restorative justice to occur, it may play a critical role in an offender’s ability to function in a peaceful and productive manner. Mending Fences recognizes the value of the familial relationships of its participants and encourages offenders to lay the groundwork for recovery, closure, and reconciliation with family and loved ones. Comprising this session will be analysis and discussion of the following topics:

What reconciliation is and is not.
Who participants may wish to reconcile with.
What preconditions must be met in order to allow reconciliation to occur.
Manners in which participants may reconcile with themselves and others.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Check for completion of homework from Session 16

3. Presentation and discussion on Reconciliation

4. Preview Session 18 guest speaker

5. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Guest Speaker

Personal Journal:

Consider a family member or someone special with whom you have a broken relationship. If you were able to mend the fences with them, how would your life be different? What steps can you take to make this a reality?

Homework:

Participants will be expected to draft questions for the guest speaker whom they will encounter in the following session.

Session 25 – CLOSURE

Goals:

Session 25 begins to bring Mending Fences to a close and provides an opportunity to wrap up any unfinished tasks such as the Joint Community Service Project. As a final assignment, participants will be asked to jointly draft a brief Accountability Agreement. This document will outline their ongoing commitment to restorative justice principles, accountability to themselves, their victims, family, community, and each other. By drafting and signing this document participants are making a symbolic pledge to continue on the journey that they have started through Mending Fences and carry these principles with them moving forward. Session 25 will also allow a period for joint reflection and discussion of participant and facilitator experiences in Mending Fences.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Wrap up any unfinished Mending Fences tasks.

3. Discuss and draft Accountability Agreement.

4. Reflection and discussion of participant and facilitator experiences.

5. Assignment of homework. RE: Evaluation

Personal Journal:

Continue to journal on an ongoing basis. You may do this as frequently as you choose. However, it is recommended that you take some time at least once a week to write and reflect upon your continuing journey. You may chose to revisit topics you have previously written about to take measure of your growth. Continuing to journal will provide an enduring therapeutic and positive outlet.

Homework:

Participants will be given a Program / Facilitator Evaluation and asked to complete it by the following session.


Session 4 – IMBALANCE & CONFLICT

Goals:

This session is designed to help participants identify various types of conflict. The central focus of the discussion will be on imbalances; how they are created and how they give birth to conflict. Session 4 will provide participants with the tools and skills required to bring about a peaceful resolution to disputes both within the prison setting and after their release from incarceration. More specifically, the aim of this session is to:

Identify the potential stakeholders of conflict.
Illustrate the dichotomy between conflicts and imbalances.
Compare and contrast various dispute resolution methods (past and present) and how participants may apply these practices to their own lives.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Review Session 3 homework assignment.

3. Ask whether there are any questions or discussion points from previous sessions that should be addressed.

4. Presentation and discussion on Imbalances and Conflict.

5. Assignment of homework and questions. RE: Victimology.

Personal Journal:

Write about specific conflicts you have encountered in prison and prior to your incarceration. How were these disputes resolved? Do you feel balance was restored? Why or why not?

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions pertaining to Victimology. This assignment will focus on the harms caused to victims of crime and the needs created as a result. Completion of these tasks is expected prior to Session 5.

Goals

Mending Fences has five primary goals:

Enhance public safety through reduced recidivism by offenders.
Offender acceptance of genuine accountability and their ongoing obligations to victims and the community.
Fulfill the preconditions for healing and empowerment for members of the victim impact panels.
The re-establishment of participant relationships with their family, friends, and community.
Enable participants to live more peaceful and productive lives.


Session 21 – PEACE BUILDING

Goals:

Peace building can take many forms. It may be an offender taking steps to restore their victim, or performing a service to the community. Peace building can also be the healing and re-establishing of relationships, perhaps between an offender and their family and loved ones, or even a recommitment to their faith. A breadth of research has shown that offenders who have well-established, positive and supportive relationships in the community have a far greater chance of functioning successfully and lawfully than those who fail to repair these relationships. In this spirit, Mending Fences will solicit ideas for a Joint Community Service Project to be performed by program participants. Future sessions will be dedicated to project development and execution. Session 21 will focus on:

Identifying those with whom peace building is a possibility.
Exploring methods by which peace building can be initiated.
Examining the benefits of peace building for all shareholders.
Brainstorming for the Mending Fences Joint Community Service Project.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Verify completion of homework.

3. Group discussion on peacebuilding.

4. Introduction and discussion of the Mending Fences Joint Community Service Project.

5. Preview Session 22 guest speaker.

6. Assignment of homework. RE: Guest Speaker questions and Brainstorming the Community Service Project.

Personal Journal:

Consider the topics discussed thus far. What areas are a personal struggle for you? Where have you made progress? What steps will you take to continue your journey towards reconciliation, rehabilitation, and restoration?

Homework:

Participants will be expected to draft questions for the guest speaker(s) whom they will encounter in Session 22. Additionally, they will be asked to further develop innovative ideas for the upcoming Community Service Project.

Session 24 – JOINT COMMUNITY SERVICE PROJECT

Goals:

In addition to reconciling and restoring the broken personal relationships of participants, Mending Fences seeks to initiate and maintain a positive and productive relationship with the community local to the correctional facility. This is to be done by challenging participants to create, design, and execute a community service project that has a locally tangible impact. Considering the logistical constraints of time and the institution, the goal of this project should be realistic and achievable for the group. Providing participants the opportunity to give back to the local community is not only fulfilling for the individual, but also helps to break down the mystification of prisoners as totally evil human beings who have nothing to contribute to society. Breaking down this mystification not only helps to alleviate the fear of prisoners, but bolsters their ability to function successfully and lawfully upon release. The objectives of Session 24 will be to:

Fully design and develop the Mending Fences Joint Community Service Project.
Invite local community leaders to be involved in the planning of the project.
Plan and execute the project.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Discussion and development of the Joint Community Service Project.

3. Finalize and execute the Project.

4. Discuss the coming graduation.

Personal Journal:

Throughout the Mending Fences program you have been introduced to various restorative justice concepts and to victims who have shared with you the hurt that crime inflicted upon them. What have you discovered during this journey that is most important to you? Do you feel that anything about you has changed since beginning Mending Fences? Please explain. Moving forward, how will you be able to implement these concepts in your life?

Session 5 – VICTIMOLOGY

Goals:

Mending Fences is a victim-oriented offender rehabilitation program. The restorative justice paradigm places the greatest emphasis on the harms caused to victims and the needs created as a result. In order for an offender to truly identify with their victim it is essential for them to understand the experience from the victim’s point of view. It is only through this lens that offenders will experience genuine feelings of empathy towards victims. This session will help participants learn the following:

The feelings and emotions typically experienced by those who have been harmed.
The common victim needs created as a result of crime.
How victims are often marginalized by the criminal justice system.
The various manners in which their actions have impacted others.
To explore the logical connection between victims, offenders and the community.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Check homework assignment from Session 4.

3. Presentation and discussion on Victimology.

4. Preview Session 6 guest speaker and reiterate behavioral expectations of participants.

5. Assignment of homework questions. RE: Guest Speaker

Personal Journal:

What do you think are some of the feelings and emotions that the speaker in Session 6 experienced when they were harmed? Have you ever experienced these same feelings and emotions? If so, how did you cope with them?

Homework:

Participants will be expected to draft questions for the guest speaker whom they will encounter in the following session.

Contents

Introduction. i

FAQ’s. viii

Mission. 1

Goals. 1

Objectives. 1

Overview. 2

Session 1 – ORIENTATION. 5

Session 2 – RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PRINCIPLES. 6

Session 3 – CRIME. 7

Session 4 – IMBALANCE & CONFLICT. 8

Session 5 – VICTIMOLOGY. 9

Session 6 – THE REALITY. 10

Session 7 – IMPACT. 11

Session 8 – RESPONSIBILITY. 12

Session 9 – ACCOUNTABILITY. 13

Session 10 – ANSWERS. 14

Session 11 – VINDICATION.. 15

Session 12 – OWNING UP. 16

Session 13 – EMPATHY. 17

Session 14 – REASSURANCE. 18

Session 15 – FORGIVENESS. 19

Session 16 – EMPOWERMENT. 20

Session 17 – RECONCILIATION.. 21

Session 18 – EQUITY. 22

Session 19 – RESTITUTION. 23

Session 20 – COMMUNITY. 24

Session 21 – PEACE BUILDING. 25

Session 22 – HITTING HOME. 26

Session 23 – THE LETTER. 27

Session 24 – JOINT COMMUNITY SERVICE PROJECT. 28

Session 25 – CLOSURE. 29

Session 26 – GRADUATION. 30

Mending Fences Curriculum Agenda. 31

Session 2 – RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PRINCIPLES

Goals:

The essential goals of Mending Fences are rooted in the principles of restorative justice. In order for participants to successfully achieve the program goals and objectives, it is imperative for them to have a fundamental understanding of restorative justice, its history, and its core philosophy. This session will incorporate a discussion about the reading assignment as well as extensive dialogue regarding restorative justice. The objectives of Session 2 will be to:

Provide participants with a working knowledge of restorative justice core principles.
Detail the early history and modern evolution of restorative justice.
Illustrate the variance between restorative and retributive justice models.
Educate participants as to how restorative justice practices may be applied within daily prison life and sustained after released from custody.
Explain the benefits of restorative practices to victims, offenders, and the community.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Verify completion of Session 1 homework.

3. Presentation and discussion on Restorative Justice Principles.

4. Preview Session 3 topic and assign homework reading and questions. RE: Crime.

Personal Journal:

How do you feel about being incarcerated? What are the most difficult struggles you encounter and how do you deal with them?

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning the cause and effect of crime. They will be expected to complete the reading and questions, as well as the apology letters assigned in Session 1, prior to Session 3.

Session 18 – EQUITY

Goals:

A substantial portion of Mending Fences is allotted to encounters with victims of diverse offenses. Utilizing encounters with multiple victims of crime enables participants to reflect upon the various experiences of harm and healing by real people. Furthermore, participants are encouraged to talk about their own feelings of remorse and responsibility, thereby offering symbolic vindication to victim speakers. The aim of guest speaking sessions are to:

Provide victim speakers an opportunity to feel they are doing something to help alter offender behavior.
Allow participants to recognize, acknowledge, and validate victim suffering and feelings of injustice.
Make it possible for both victim and offender participants to satisfy some of the preconditions for healing: empowerment, truthtelling, answering of questions, and a sense of reassurance.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Introduction of guest speaker.

3. Victim presentation.

4. Question and answer session.

5. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Restitution

Personal Journal:

What parallels have you observed between the concepts presented in Mending Fences and your own spirituality / faith traditions? Which of these is more important to you and why?

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning restitution. They will be expected to complete the reading and questions prior to session 19.

Session 23 – THE LETTER

Goals:

As Mending Fences nears its completion it is important to take measure of what program participants have learned. The program would be remiss not to revisit the impact offender actions have had on their victims. After Session 1, Mending Fences participants were asked to draft a hypothetical letter to the victim of the crime for which they are incarcerated. It is likely that many factors were not taken into account. With exposure to the concepts of restorative justice, as well as extensive personal introspection, participants should have the ability to formulate a well informed and more meaningful letter of apology to their victim. This homework assignment should display the knowledge and impact Mending Fences has had on participants. Session 23 will focus primarily on these letters, their practical application, the contrast with their letters from Session 1, and the possibility of making them available to victims in an approved and appropriate manner. The latter portion of this session will be allocated to the further development of Mending Fences Joint Community Service Project. By the conclusion of this session, participants will have:

Finalized an apology letter to the victim of the crime they are incarcerated for.
Begun to identify the contrasting thinking patterns between the beginning of Mending Fences and Session 23.
Determined and begun developing workable ideas for the Joint Community Service Project.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Review and discussion of participant’s letter to their victim.

3. Further designing and development of the Joint Community Service Project.

4. Assignment of homework: RE: Community Service Project.

Personal Journal:

Having re-written your apology letter, and considered what you have learned in Mending Fences, what differences do you see between your letter from Session 1 and now? How has your understanding of the impact of your criminal behavior changed?

Homework:

Participants will be asked to further develop ideas and carry out delegated tasks related to the Mending Fences Joint Community Service Project.

Overview

Mending Fences is a victim-oriented offender rehabilitation program rooted in the principles of restorative justice.  It is the mission of Mending Fences to enable offenders to understand the impact of their actions on their victims, families, and the community.  This program also provides a forum for victims and offenders to join together in dialogue in hopes of bringing healing to crime victims and offenders, thereby affecting a consequent reduction in crime and enhanced public safety.

Mending Fences aims to effectively reduce recidivism. As a direct result of participating in the program, offenders are more likely to exhibit meaningful changes in their thinking patterns and behavior.  Rather than being an emotional and financial burden, offenders will demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated by being productive members of their community – paying taxes, raising families, and contributing to society in a tangible manner. Mending Fences intends to decrease recidivism rates of its participants thereby reducing crime.  Communities will be safer, taxpayers will save millions of dollars on the cost of prisons, and most importantly, victims and offenders will be better able to heal and be restored.

The Crime Problem - The impact of crime on society cannot be overstated.  Crime directly impacts its victims.  Crime also impacts the families of victims and offenders, the economy, and the community’s sense of safety and security.  It destroys the personal well-being of victims and offenders alike and impacts the financial stability of the entire nation.  1 in every 33 adults in the United States is incarcerated (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010), at a cost of over $75 billion a year and rising (Center for Economic Policy and Research, 2010). However, the criminal justice system continues to focus on the punishment and warehousing of offenders with only cursory efforts towards rehabilitation.  Most inmates who are released will return to prison.  The U.S. is incarcerating its citizens at alarming rates; meanwhile victims of crime are rendered voiceless in the entire legal process.

Victims - Every year thousands of Virginians are the victims of crime. The ripple effect of crime resonates across the nation. The impact of crime on victims, their families, along with the community is far reaching. It includes an array of emotional as well as physical traumas and economic loss. A national estimate of the tangible costs (physical and mental health costs, loss of income, property damage) of crime exceeds $17 billion annually, where the intangible costs (reduced quality of life, pain and suffering, etc.) exceeds $330 billion annually (American Journal of Public Health, 2008). Crime affects our sense of well being and safety, and it frequently impacts children and families in a negative manner. Victims of violent crimes frequently experience an adversarial justice system that affords them little social support.

Exacerbating this problem, children and families suffer the rigors of an incarcerated family member. A 2010 report by the Pew Charitable Trust stated that 1 in 28 children in the United States are impacted by the incarceration of a parent. Families of those who are incarcerated experience significantly higher rates of poverty and homelessness than those without incarcerated family members. Additionally, as a result of emotional issues such as shame and loss, one in ten children of incarcerated parents will be imprisoned later in life (Community Action Network, 2009).

Offenders - The United States comprises five percent of the world’s population. However, 25 percent of the world’s prisoners are incarcerated in the U.S. 1 of every 33 American adults is in jail or prison, and Virginia prisons hold over 35,000 every year – half of which are imprisoned for violent crimes.

Recidivism - An offender is considered to have recidivated if, after released from custody, he or she commits a new crime or violates the terms of supervision within three years and returns to jail or prison. In 2008 over 725,000 people were released from state prisons. More than 60 percent of these offenders are expected to recidivate (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011).

Current statistics indicate that 92 percent of offenders incarcerated in Virginia will be released back into the neighborhoods of the Commonwealth. Over 65 percent of those released will return to prison within three years (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009). Offenders returning to the community encounter a host of challenges upon their release. These include problems finding employment, absence of family support and social outlets, unaddressed substance abuse issues, and many other problems – often leading to re-offending behaviors.

Economic Impact of Crime - The cycle of crime from offense, arrest, due process, and incarceration is a gargantuan burden on the U.S. economy as well as on the Commonwealth of Virginia.  In 2010, states spent over $63.4 billion on corrections (The Cost of Prisons, 2012). In the fiscal year ending June 2015, the VADOC budget will exceed $1 billion. This cycle has various costs:

The cost of arrest, jail, and due process in the courts.
The damage and loss of property from theft.
The absence of productivity from the person incarcerated.
The cost of social welfare programs due to wage earners being imprisoned.
The actual cost of incarcerating each individual.

It is impossible to precisely calculate all the costs of crime. However, the Commonwealth of Virginia spends in excess of $25,000 per year for each inmate in the prison system. The average term of incarceration is 4.5 years, bringing the median cost of incarceration for VADOC inmates to $112,500.

Restorative Justice Success – Several states currently deploy various methods and models of restorative justice programming in the prison setting. Alabama corrections operate cognitive community honor dorms governed by offenders employing restorative justice practices. Minnesota has had numerous active restorative justice initiatives within the state prison system to address offender criminogenic needs since the early 1990s.

More recently, a thematic analysis of a program model similar to that of Mending Fences was conducted by the University of Texas at Austin. The study was of offender response to an in-prison restorative justice initiative employing victim impact panels. 839 offender participants, 90 victim participants, and 52 facilitators took part in the evaluation. Of the offenders, 33.1% were incarcerated for violent crimes, 30.3% for drug offenses, and 26.1% for property crimes. The analysis revealed that restorative justice models utilizing victim impact panels enhanced deterrence through a heightened sense of responsibility by offender participants for their actions. Other areas emphasized by offenders were highlighted awareness of the impact of criminal behavior on others, improved self-management, and increased impulse control. Most revealing however was the consequent recidivism reduction to an eyebrow raising rate of 12.4% for offenders who completed the program.

Restorative justice is a logical evidence based practice that has proven effective even under the most stringent of evaluations. In Restorative Justice: The Evidence (The Smith Institute, 2007), a comprehensive meta-analysis of numerous international programs, including many U.S. based initiatives, concluded that – at worst – no negative results stemmed from restorative justice practices. In fact, the evidence suggests that victim offender conferencing, encounters between prisoners and victim impact panels, and ongoing community involvement reap expansive benefits to all stakeholders. These practices also spawn greater satisfaction with the justice system for both victims and offenders, as well as producing markedly lower repeat offending and recidivism rates; one-fifth that of the national average.

A New Way – Mending Fences is a manualized 26-session victim-oriented offender rehabilitation program that utilizes an evidence based restorative justice approach to bring victim impact panels and community members into VADOC prisons for direct encounters with offenders to:  A) reduce recidivism of program graduates and  B) facilitate the healing of victim and offender participants. The forthcoming framework offers a unique and innovative approach to offender correction and rehabilitation as well as a substantive compliment to emerging restorative justice efforts within the VADOC.



Session 1 – ORIENTATION

Goals:

The purpose of the Orientation Session is to familiarize facilitators and offenders with one another and provide participants with an understanding of what is to come. This orientation will set the tone for future sessions. Participants will be introduced to the Mending Fences curriculum. More specifically, after Session 1 the offender should understand:

What Mending Fences is about and how future sessions will function.
The commitment of time and effort that will be required of participants attending each session, completing homework, and personal journal assignments.
Mending Fences rules and policies concerning confidentiality and boundaries with facilitators and speakers.
What victim and offender emotions might surface during the program.
The basic principles of restorative justice.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Welcoming of participants to Mending Fences program.

3. Introduction and brief background of facilitators.

4. Participants provided with program materials.

5. General overview of Mending Fences program and curriculum.

6. Introduction to restorative justice principles.

7. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Restorative Justice.

Personal Journal:

Why did you sign up for Mending Fences and what do you hope to take from it?

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions pertaining to restorative justice principles. They will be expected to complete the reading and questions prior to Session 2. In addition, participants will be asked to draft two letters of apology; one to the victim of the offense for which they are incarcerated, and the second to a family member or loved one who has been affected by their actions. These hypothetical letters will be used as learning tools for future reference. They are not intended to be sent.



Session 13 – EMPATHY

Goals:

The current retributive justice model encourages offenders to focus on their own legal situation. Victims have been insulated from the offender by an elaborate labyrinth of attorney and court officials which precludes offenders from seeing the real human cost of their actions. Having had direct encounters with the previous three victim speakers, participants should have began breaking down the figurative walls that insulate themselves from their victims. Once these obstacles have been overcome, participants should develop a more complete understanding of what they have done and the hurt and harm caused to their victims. More importantly, they will have begun to empathize with their victims, thereby encouraging future lawful behavior.

The nurturing of empathy is of paramount importance in the process of rehabilitation, reconciliation, and restoration. Session 13 will provide Mending Fences participants with the following tools:

An understanding of the definition and elements of empathy.
The ability to recognize the feelings and experiences of those who have been harmed.
A comprehension of the transformative value of empathy and how it is applicable to their lives.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Check for completion of homework from Session 12.

3. Ask whether there are any questions or discussion points from previous sessions that should be addressed.

4. Presentation and discussion on Developing Empathy and Personal Transformation.

5. Preview Session 14 guest speaker.

6. Assignment of homework questions. RE: Guest Speaker

Personal Journal:

Begin writing your personal story, utilizing the outline in your Mending Fences Study Guide.

Homework:

Participants will be expected to draft questions for the guest speaker whom they will encounter in the following session.

Session 14 – REASSURANCE

Goals:

A substantial portion of Mending Fences is allotted to encounters with victims of diverse offenses. Utilizing encounters with multiple victims of crime enables participants to reflect upon the various experiences of harm and healing by real people. Furthermore, participants are encouraged to talk about their own feelings of remorse and responsibility, thereby offering symbolic vindication to victim speakers. The aim of guest speaking sessions are to:

Provide victim speakers an opportunity to feel they are doing something to help alter offender behavior.
Allow participants to recognize, acknowledge, and validate victim suffering and feelings of injustice.
Make it possible for both victim and offender participants to satisfy some of the preconditions for healing: empowerment, truthtelling, answering of questions, and a sense of reassurance.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Introduction of guest speaker.

3. Victim presentation.

4. Question and answer session.

5. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Forgiveness

Personal Journal:

Continue writing your personal story, utilizing the outline in your Mending Fences Study Guide.

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning the healing power of Forgiveness. They will be expected to complete the reading and questions prior to session 15.

Session 26 – GRADUATION

Goals:

Participants have now completed the Mending Fences program. Session 26 is a time to reflect, celebrate, and look to the future. Hopefully past speakers, as well as administration from the host facility will attend graduation to acknowledge and commend participants for their hard work and accomplishment. A distinguished speaker from the community should address the attendees to congratulate them on their hard work and also to remind participants of their ongoing responsibilities to victims, the community, and their families. Accountability Agreements from Session 25 will be signed and certificates of completion of Mending Fences presented.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Introduction and speaker presentation.

3. Ceremonial signing of Accountability Agreement.

4. Presentation of certificates of graduation.

5. Fellowship and refreshments.

Session 11 – VINDICATION

Goals:

A substantial portion of Mending Fences is allotted to encounters with victims of diverse offenses. Utilizing encounters with multiple victims of crime enables participants to reflect upon the various experiences of harm and healing by real people. Furthermore, participants are encouraged to talk about their own feelings of remorse and responsibility, thereby offering symbolic vindication to victim speakers. The aim of guest speaking sessions are to:

Provide victim speakers an opportunity to feel they are doing something to help alter offender behavior.
Allow participants to recognize, acknowledge, and validate victim suffering and feelings of injustice.
Make it possible for both victim and offender participants to satisfy some of the preconditions for healing: empowerment, truthtelling, answering of questions, and a sense of reassurance.

Schedule:

1. Facilitator takes attendance from participant list.

2. Introduction of guest speaker.

3. Victim presentation.

4. Question and answer session.

5. Assignment of homework reading and questions. RE: Owning Up

Personal Journal:

What are some good things that have happened in your life? Who was responsible for them? Why did the person responsible for the good do what he or she did? How can you be responsible for more good?

Homework:

Participants will be given a reading assignment and questions concerning owning up, confession and spirituality. They will be expected to complete the reading and questions prior to session 12.

Introduction

Welcome to Mending Fences, a restorative justice program designed for offenders incarcerated in the Virginia Department of Corrections.  Mending Fences is a victim-oriented offender rehabilitation program that provides a healing journey for victims of crime and helps incarcerated offenders understand the far reaching impact of their actions.

               The proceeding framework for Mending Fences was drafted with the aide and guidance of several restorative justice practitioners, some of whom were consulted by the Virginia State Crime Commission when researching the 2010 Virginia State Crime Commission report on Restorative Justice (Report Document No.48).  We have conferred with authors, social workers, political activists, community leaders, attorneys, state legislators, restorative justice program providers and facilitators.  We obtained curriculums of existing programs and evaluated their strengths and weaknesses prior to developing this model.  While composing the framework we attempted to build as much flexibility into the program as possible.  Mending Fences is fluid and will continue to evolve as it experiences growth.  Facilitators, volunteers, and participants will contribute suggestions and ideas for improvement.  The ongoing development of national and international restorative justice practices will undoubtedly bring forth the introduction of new theories and techniques for advancement of restorative justice in the correctional environment.

Homework and Journaling – As it stands, Mending Fences is a twenty-six session program that covers a multitude of topics involved in criminal behavior, victimology, rehabilitation, and reconciliation.  Every session is assigned a dedicated subject matter.  Goals and objectives are clearly outlined and fashioned to fit within a structured window of time.  Extensive reading and homework is assigned to each participant in order for offenders to have a foundation and working knowledge of upcoming topics prior to the commencement of each session.  This enables the program facilitator to guide the presentation and discussion in each session in a productive and focused manner, allowing for as much dialogue and exchange between participants and presenters as possible.

               Homework typically consists of a reading assignment focusing on the topic of the upcoming session.  We are currently sourcing and evaluating appropriate content for these assignments. The reading is accompanied by a Mending Fences Study Guide that contains questions and exercises associated with the reading assignment.  Homework will be checked by the program facilitator for completion at the beginning of each session.  This is not intended to be a strenuous review of participant work, more so to verify ink on paper.  Discussion during the session will reveal if an individual is in need of encouragement or assistance in completing their homework.

               In addition to reading and homework questions, Mending Fences participants will be required to do extensive personal journaling.  Fostering intense introspection and self-evaluation is aimed to bring personal awareness to participants while allowing them to reflect on their past, discover the root causes of offending behavior, and nurture creative thinking patterns and productive behaviors.  Personal journal entries deliberately challenge offenders in difficult personal areas such as their relationships with family and loved ones, attitudes towards authority, reflection on painful incidents in their past, as well as compelling participants to be honest with themselves about their hurtful behavior towards others.

               Victim Impact Panels – Interspersed throughout the Mending Fences curriculum are six sessions allotted to victim speakers.  Many existing restorative justice programs utilize similar models in correctional settings.  “Victim impact panels” include victims of crime who tell their stories of harm and healing to groups of offenders in hopes of effecting a positive change in criminal behavior.  These panels or “surrogate victims” are not matched or direct victims of participants in Mending Fences.  Though a peripheral goal of Mending Fences is to identify offenders who are candidates for direct victim/offender conferencing, it is important for participants to have an understanding of the real human impact of their actions.  Impact panel speakers will have experienced varying types of crime and victimization.  Through such encounters Mending Fences participants should begin to empathize with the speakers as well as develop a deep remorse for the harm they have caused and a desire to make amends wherever possible.

               Encounters between victim impact panels and offenders glean expansive benefits for victims, offenders, and the community.  Victims may find answers they had not gotten through the legal process: Why was I victimized?  Did the offender have something against me?  What if I had done something differently?  Some of these questions are relevant to those who have been harmed.  Encounters may also relieve the tension, frustration, and anxiety of the likelihood of future victimization.  Victims who have had similar restorative encounters often experience a shift in attitude regarding punishment of offenders.  They may also develop an increased understanding of offenders, the nature and causes of crime, as well as a sense of vindication and closure as a result of this process.

               That which offenders can gain from victim impact panels and conferencing is tremendous.  Face to face encounters help offenders to see victims as real people.  For example, an offender who robbed a family during a home invasion may, for the first time, have an opportunity to fully appreciate the fears and trauma that families experience from such violations.  An offender may also find that a victim they had thought to be wealthy or quite different from themselves, indeed, has very similar needs to their own.  Offenders have the opportunity to demonstrate that they are not defined by the crime they committed.  That they are not monsters, they too, are human.  Through these encounters, offenders shall acknowledge that they have done something awful and they are to be held accountable for it.  The process also brings to light the fact that the offender is not inherently bad.

               Community Speakers – In addition to the six sessions allocated to victim impact panels, Mending Fences dedicates sessions to community members and officials to provide indirect victims of crime an opportunity to voice their story.  This allows community leaders to tell their experiences of indirect victimization and how crime affected them.  This empowers communities to remedy problems directly, rather than simply looking to law enforcement, courts, and prisons for solutions.  The level of fear towards crime within the community wanes when they are active participants in creating a safer environment.  This is especially relevant in small and rural communities where victims and offenders are more likely to re-encounter one another.  The more the community is involved in the solution, the likelihood of it being involved in maintaining healthy relationships increases.  Another and most desirable benefit to community involvement is a resultant reduction of recidivism.  As offenders learn to see victims and community members as people and realize the human cost of crime, they are less likely to reoffend.  Knowing that they will be accepted back into the community will help to reduce or even avoid the damaging effects of incarceration on offenders, which often leads them to commit more crimes.

               Other residual benefits of dialogue groups may include increased validation and credibility of the correctional and legal system, with victims, and the community.  Dialogue groups also bring attention to victim needs, offender accountability, and community involvement that can increase the public’s understanding of and support for criminal justice personnel.

Joint Community Service Project – As the program nears its conclusion, participants will be challenged to create and execute a service project for the benefit of the community local to the host facility. Admittedly, there are obstacles to overcome given the restrictions of a correctional setting. However, with some ingenuity and creative discussion, participants should be capable of collectively executing a service project that has a tangible and sustained impact on the community. Mending Fences facilitators and volunteers will aide participants, acquire appropriate approvals, and advance the project. Projects such as this will help to break down the mystification of prisoners as totally evil human beings who have nothing to contribute to society. This mystification contributes to community fear and isolation of prisoners which further erodes their ability to function successfully upon release.

Amend Letters – At the beginning of Mending Fences participants are asked to draft a hypothetical letter of apology to the victim of the crime for which they are incarcerated. The purpose of this exercise is to establish a baseline measure for individual outlook and thinking patterns at the outset of the program. In a later session Mending Fences participants will be tasked with re-writing this apology letter while applying their evolved outlook and thinking. Most will find marked differences between their first hypothetical letter and the later. The new letter will be far more meaningful, thoughtful, and sincere.

For the offenders who wish to participate, Mending Fences facilitators will collect the finalized letters, review them, and forward the letters on to the VADOC Victim Services Unit and the Commonwealth Attorney’s office in the sentencing jurisdiction of the offender. The desired result is that the letters will be made available to those who have been harmed by the participant and could potentially help bring about healing, vindication, and closure for the victim. This is not an uncommon practice. In fact, many states mandate that state prosecutors maintain a library of amend letters from offenders, and notify victims of their availability. There is understandable concern for victim rights and protection. Mending Fences does not advocate that offenders directly contact victims. However, this process properly supervised by the Victim Services Unit and Commonwealth Attorney’s office, marks a positive step forward.

Participants of Mending Fences have already been through the adversarial process of conviction and sentencing and are serving their time in a correctional facility. They have no position to protect, there is nothing tangible to be gained, nor any rewards of sentence-reduction for participation. Additionally, as many years – if not decades – have passed since the actual commission of their crimes, the amend letters are far more likely to be well-contemplated and sincere.

Communities of Care – Mending Fences emphasizes the support of participant’s family and loved ones. Reconnecting offenders and their “communities of care” is an essential aspect of successful rehabilitation, yet the status quo offers little opportunities for this. This program, rooted in the ideals of restoration, gives offenders substantial tools for the mending and re-establishment of relationships. Several personal journal entries will focus on participant family and loved ones, and how they have been affected by the participant’s behavior and subsequent incarceration. In order to illustrate the actual human cost to families of prisoners, the final guest speakers in the Mending Fences curriculum are the family members of current or former prisoners (not housed at the host facility). Many prisoners have little to no appreciation for how their behavior impacts those closest to them, much less others. Inmate families suffer great hardships right alongside their incarcerated loved ones. Not only do they have to work, maintain their home, pay bills, and often raise children as a single parent, but they are also burdened with worry and concern for their imprisoned loved one.  Additionally they may be stigmatized by community members, co-workers, family and friends – not to mention money for phone calls, commissary, and extended distance to travel for brief visits.  Offenders are so often focused on their own plight that they seldom consider the trials their family experiences.

In line with the mending and re-establishment of participant family relationships, further expansion of Mending Fences may include the use of family group conferences.  Mending Fences has been offered the expertise of a leading authority in this field who is willing to facilitate and train mediators for these conferences.  The skills provided may be advanced to facilitate circle processes in order to address offender discipline and curb the use of inmate grievance procedures.  Similar models can be found in public school systems where prohibited student behavior can be referred to circle conferencing in lieu of formal disciplinary procedures.

Logistics – Material requirements for a full Mending Fences program are rather minimal.  A composition book should be provided to each participant as well as the Mending Fences Study Guide and accompanying readings.  These can be provided at a minimum expense.  Host facilities will allocate a quite space such as a classroom, conference room, or visitation area for the sessions to be conducted.  Logistical issues that need to be considered are the approval of guest speakers and facilitators, as well as session frequency and time span.

Participant Selection – Another issue to consider is selection of offender participants.  Many of the programs presently conducted by VADOC (Thinking For A Change, Breaking Barriers, P.R.E.P.S., etc.) are required classes.  Counselors assign the offender to participate in selected courses in a “one size fits all” model rather than an ad hoc basis.  Offenders who choose not to participate are subject to disciplinary action, including elevated security levels, loss of good time, termination from work assignments, and segregation.  Often “participants” in these classes are disinterested, even combative due to the fact that the course is required.  This poor attitude renders them unreceptive to what classes have to offer and often rubs off on the instructors, leading them to passively conduct the course.

               Mending Fences, in contrast, is strictly voluntary.  Offenders should not be mandated or required to enroll nor should participation be recommended in offender case plans.  Before any education, healing, or absorption of restorative justice principles can begin all parties must be participating fully of their own volition without being pressured or coerced by others.  There is nothing to be gained in the manner of goodtime or sentence credits.  Participants are composed of offenders who wish to heal the harms they have caused, contribute to the community, and gain the tools to live a more peaceful and productive life.

               Mending Fences is applicable to any and all offenders regardless of age, time served or remaining to serve, nature of offense, re-entry plan, race, or religion.  Therefore, any offenders who wish to participate should not be restricted from doing so.  The only prerequisites for enrollment are a desire to change for the better and enough time remaining to serve in order to complete the program.

               Length of Program – We have extensively discussed and considered the duration of the Mending Fences program.  Twenty-six sessions necessitates a significant commitment from both participants and facilitators.  The actual time span can be either three months, meeting twice a week; or conducting one session per week lasting six months.  Taking into account the variety and difficulty of the assignments, as well as the sensitive nature of the subject matter, we recommend a six month model be exercised.  Most participants have been incarcerated for several years and may have many more to serve.  The process of restorative justice takes time and, in the case of most offenders, will continue in perpetuity.  Rushing the process would be a disservice to all participants as well as to the principles of restorative justice.

Group Speakers – One obstacle that must be addressed is sourcing victim volunteers who are willing to participate and be members of the victim impact panels. At a minimum this is a difficult and sensitive task. However, there are many different avenues that Mending Fences facilitators may pursue in order to locate volunteers. These range from Commonwealth’s Attorney offices and victim advocacy groups, to organized causes like M.A.D.D. and domestic violence charities. Some of these groups and organizations have already volunteered to assist and participate in the victim impact panels. While it may be a difficult undertaking it is far from impossible. With ingenuity and persistence, Mending Fences will develop a network of volunteers who may participate at one or multiple facilities affording them an active role in altering the lives of offenders and having a tangible impact on the safety and betterment of the community.

Rehabilitative Benefits – We believe that Mending Fences affords VADOC offenders a long overdue opportunity to examine the root causes of their behavior, recognize and understand the impact of their actions and the needs created as a result.  Participants will be more likely to empathize with victims and to take action to right these wrongs to the greatest extent possible.  Additionally, Mending Fences presents an opportunity for offenders to re-connect with society while making tangible contributions to the local community.  It is also hoped that participants will apply the principles of restorative justice within their daily lives while in prison: Strengthening family relationships, paying restitution, respecting authority, and making positive contributions to the facility and local community.

               A Unique Perspective – Our status as individuals incarcerated in the VADOC affords us a unique perspective as to the need of an offender program based on restorative justice principles.  Mending Fences brings a program model similar to those that have demonstrated tremendous success in other states.  Some boast the reduction of recidivism rates from over 60 percent to under 12 percent, at a minimal expense to tax payers.  As citied in the Virginia Crime Commission’s 2010 report on Restorative Justice, “…the traditional approach of justice can; at a minimum, be supplemented by some innovative, evidence-based restorative justice approaches.”  Mending Fences shows promise as a compliment to existing VADOC programming as well as evolving restorative justice initiatives within the Commonwealth.  We believe strongly in the principals of restorative justice, its role in the healing of those who have been harmed, and in its value as a rehabilitative tool in the correctional environment.

               It would appear rather uncommon for two prisoners to actively pursue, much less attempt to develop, rehabilitative programming.  However, it has been done in the restorative justice arena before with much success.  A restorative justice program with similar structure has been operating at Graterford prison in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for over two decades and is run by inmates.  It was the inspiration for the documentary film Concrete, Steel, and Paint (concretefilm.org).  At MCI-Norfolk, a facility in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a restorative justice program utilizing a victim impact panel format, initiated by offenders, has drawn in community leaders, Judges, and Governors while also being editorialized by the Huffington Post and The New York Times.  In her book Restorative Justice for People in Prison, Barb Toews, a leading authority of correctional restorative justice practices, encourages the initiation and development of restorative justice programming by inmates.  While we expect skepticism and apprehension, we invite you to review the Mending Fences framework.  We hope it will raise questions, inspire dialogue, and garner your support for our efforts to pilot Mending Fences at a VADOC facility and later expand to all VADOC locations.