New program seeks healthy, healing dialogue between juvenile offenders and victims

The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice unveiled Thursday¬†a new initiative that pairs victims and offenders for face-to-face meetings. The DJJ’s new Victim Offender Dialogue Program has been conducted on a pilot basis for two years until more facilitators were trained in order to properly and effectively conduct these often intense face-to-face meetings. The program began with 6 facilitators. DJJ Restorative Justice Coordinator Ginny Barr says the department has over the years conducted programs where first time nonviolent offenders meet with their victims, but the new initiative is unique in that it brings perpetrators and victims together who have been involved in crimes of a very egregious nature.
“We’ve done cases of murder, sex offending, robbery, assault and battery with intent to kill. The cases brought into this specific program are of a violent and serious nature.”
Barr says the idea to develop the program was born out of a number of requests that DJJ received from victims who wanted to meet with their offenders.
Barr says before a meeting takes place a facilitator conducts several separate interviews with the victim and perpetrator. “The trained facilitator meets with them and does an assessment to be certain that the person is appropriate, that they are at a point after the offense where it is going to be a safe situation and that the purpose is proper. That it is not to be vindictive, that it is not to get back, that the motivation is appropriate.
Barr says in many cases it takes six months to a year before a victim and perpetrator can meet face-to-face for a healthy exchange, however other cases may take much longer for a victim or relative of a victim. Barr recalls one personal experience as a facilitator. “This was a situation of murder where a 12 year old had murdered two other children and the father of one of those boys wanted to meet with him and it was five years after the crime. At that point they were both ready to do that and he has said to me that he felt like had it been any sooner than that he would not have been ready.” Barr says either party is free to back out of the meeting, even on the day it is scheduled.
Barr says usually the victim wants to know from the perpetrator why he or she committed the crime and often wants the details that led up to crime. Barr says in some cases the perpetrator will ask for the meeting. Barr says no matter who requests the meeting, the perpetrator often has a strong need to meet with the victim. ” They want to apologize. They want to express remorse and sorrow for what they’ve done and they want to help the victim heal, if they can and in some way make right their wrong. It’s an effort to say I’m sorry, I want to make this right, and one of the ways they can make it right is to honor that victim’s request to meet with them.”