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New service for crime victims launched statewide by Lutheran Social Services Restorative Justice

A new opportunity for crime victims statewide to initiate facilitated face-to-face meetings with the convicted perpetrators of those crimes is being offered by Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota through a pilot project of the North Dakota Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (DOCR).

Victims of property offenses and other select crimes who want to meet with the offenders about the harm done may now request victim-offender Accountability Conferencing with a trained and experienced facilitator provided by Lutheran Social Services Restorative Justice, according to Joel Friesz (pictured), program director. The service is available to victims of crimes where the adult perpetrators are currently sentenced to DOCR.

“Accountability Conferencing gives victims the opportunity to resolve questions or issues that may remain about the crime and may increase the likelihood of victims receiving court-ordered restitution,” Friesz noted. “It also creates opportunities for offenders to repair the harm they caused to the victims of their crimes.”

Together with Heidi Smith, DOCR victim coordinator, Friesz is notifying victim advocates across the state of the new victim-offender Accountability Conferencing service so the advocates will in turn be able to inform their clients.

According to Smith, the DOCR identified a lack of restorative justice programs provided to victims and offenders prior to 2010 that centered on the impact that crime has on victims, families and communities.

“To address this, DOCR began a pilot project with Lutheran Social Services Restorative Justice in 2010 geared to creating opportunities for offenders to repair the harm they caused, to help reintegrate offenders as contributing members of society and to increase opportunities for victim participation,” Smith explained.

At this Juvenile Accountability Conference, Barb Lammi, one of 25 facilitators for Lutheran Social Services Restorative Justice, works with a victim, left, and a young offender and her mother, right, to reach an agreement on how to repair the harm done by the crime.

As part of the original pilot project launched in 2010, Lutheran Social Services Restorative Justice continues to provide Victim Empathy Seminars and victim-offender Accountability Conferencing for adult offenders incarcerated at the Dakota Women’s Correctional & Rehabilitation Center in New England and the Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck and sentenced to the Parole and Probation office in Grand Forks. The new victim-offender Accountability Conferencing pilot project launched this year expands this effort to allow Accountability Conferencing facilitated by Lutheran Social Services to be initiated by the victim of the crime.

Lutheran Social Services Restorative Justice has provided similar services to juvenile offenders and their victims referred by the North Dakota Juvenile Courts statewide since 1999, Friesz noted. Several of the juvenile Accountability Conferencing facilitators have been trained to provide the new adult offender services.

“About 98 percent of victims who participated in our Juvenile Accountability Conferencing program over the years reported on anonymous questionnaires that it was helpful for them to meet with the offender,” Friesz said. “We anticipate that this success rate would carry over to the victims of the adult offenses who participate in this new pilot project.”

Lutheran Social Services Restorative Justice offers programs and services statewide that encourage offender accountability, work to repair harm done to crime victims and promote safe and secure communities.

Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is a statewide nonprofit social services agency serving thousands of North Dakotans with affordable housing, food, disaster response, counseling and therapy and other social service programs without regard to clients’ race, religion, gender or economic status. Lutheran Social Services offices are located in Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, Minot and Williston.

The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) is an offender-based department that also provides services to victims who have offenders sentenced to DOCR.

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