Restorative Justice speaker to give Oct. 30 presentation

Fred Van Liew will speak on Friday, Oct. 30 at 9 a.m. in the Washtenaw County Building, 200 N. Main Street. His talk is intended for any county official or law professional. The subject of his talk will be how to set up a county-based restorative justice system, especially one using victim offender conferencing. A light breakfast will be provided. Following his presentation, prominent human rights attorney Deborah  LaBelle will  talk about what such an approach might mean for Washtenaw County. There will be a chance for discussion following, with the event concluding by 11 a.m.

Van Liew is a retired prosecuting attorney from Des Moines, Iowa and current restorative practices coordinator for the Portland Center for Restorative Justice. He is also the author of the newly published book “The Justice Diary: An Inquiry into Justice in America.” He came to Ann Arbor two years ago and spoke then about restorative justice and victim-offender conferencing. That talk was well-received. This event is intended to delve further into how restorative justice can be implemented.

Van Liew will be speaking on the same topic to the general public in Ann Arbor the night before from 7-8:30 p.m. in Auditorium B of Angell Hall, the University of Michigan, 505 South State Street, 48109.

Restorative justice is a term that is sometimes used loosely or misunderstood. Its concern is to heal harm that has been done by a crime or a conflict. This is in contrast to the current American criminal justice system which emphasizes: what law has been broken, who did it, and how should they be punished. The restorative philosophy has been used by many cultures across time. It has gained recent interest by studying and recreating indigenous practices in New Zealand and North America.

Restorative practices include circles and conferences. In victim-offender conferencing the offender and support people sit down with a victim including support people and a facilitator. Together, they talk about the harm that the offender has done and what can be done to try to ameliorate the harm.  If an agreement is reached, the victim and offender sign a contract describing what the offender will do.

Victim offender conferencing can be used in situations where the offender admits to the crime and the victim is willing to participate. It offers many advantages over the current criminal justice system. The victim is more satisfied because their concerns have been heard and addressed. The offender learns more. He or she hears and sees from those affected the specific harm they have caused. The agreement that is reached requires him or her to actively do things to counter the bad actions that were previously done. The entire process works to mend the rupture in society and in the relationship between the offender and victim, or the offender and the community, that is the result of the crime.

Restorative justice techniques are already garnering some interest and use in Washtenaw County. Judge Tim Connors is using native American Peacemaking Circles in juvenile justice cases. The Dispute Resolution Center, which traditionally handles mediation cases, has expanded to training and overseeing these peacemaking circles. In addition to cases referred to it by the courts, the Dispute Resolution Center offers peacemaking circles to a member of the general public who request one to handle a conflict or relationship problem.  The organization Friends of Restorative Justice of Washtenaw County is working to bring victim offender conferencing to the courts in Washtenaw County.

The event is sponsored by  Healing Communities of Washtenaw County, an organization of religious communities working to heal the harm caused by crime and incarceration, along with other sponsors.