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NPR: Victims confront offenders, face to face

July 29, 2011

BALIGA: And, you know, I think it was within hours that I heard back from the victim’s parents. And just really implored me to consider ways in which restorative justice – they had read about restorative justice. They’d heard about Howard Zehr and his work. He’s sort of considered the grandfather of restorative justice and they were quite moved by the idea that their voices could be a part of the decision-making process and what happens to the young man who took their daughter’s life.

And so we began – I believe it was about an eight month process to reach the point where last month we sat down face to face, inside jail, with the boy and the girl’s parents and his parents as well, the priest that had been counseling all of them, and the district attorney – the state’s attorney, I guess is what they call it. And…

SULLIVAN: I’m assuming you had to probably get him or her onboard – the district attorney – onboard early.

BALIGA: Yes. And we did quite a bit of prep work in advance with everyone. And particular with the defense attorney as well, you know, because there’s some concerns from all sides that this is not a prudent course of action.

And what ended up happening was one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen. Watching a victim’s parents be able to ask the questions that attorneys don’t ask on the stand in trial. You know, you’re not going to get the kinds of answers to the types of questions you have about sort of, you know, how did my daughter lose her life, how did we get to this point, you know, what did we miss in your relationship that was – they knew one another.

SULLIVAN: Is that what they asked him?

BALIGA: Those were some of the questions that they asked him. More it was giving them a space – actually, instead of the trial and determining guilt, defining what happened in that situation.

Really the first people to hold the floor in these types of conferences are the victims, where they describe who their daughter was and what the loss has been to them. And that frames the dialogue. And then it turns to the young man to explain exactly how we ended up there.

Just this open-hearted discussion of what happened that day. And instead of attorneys, again, asking the questions, it’s the victims. And also the boy’s parents got a chance to speak about sort of how they think this might’ve arisen.

And in crafting what people would like to see as an outcome in this case, including things like batterer’s intervention programs – and this young man being released early than maybe he would have had we not had this process, in order to speak in high schools about teen dating violence. Speaking potentially some day with the victims about what has the impact of this crime been. I mean, what kind of good can come out of it.

Read the whole transcript or listen to the broadcast.


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