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Tears well up in my friend’s eyes as she recounts her car accident from nearly one year ago. The driver was drunk and avoiding the police. He luckily struck her vehicle on the passenger side, which likely spared her life. My friend, a bartender, laughs to herself as she says he was a frequent customer at the bar where she previously worked. My friend thinks about the accident constantly, but looks forward to the day when her body has recovered and she can stop taking daily doses of prescription pain reliever. She is still very angry and wonders how she would respond if he tried to make amends. Her life is forever changed. She lives in daily physical and emotional pain.

This story brings understanding to the harm caused by crime. It is undeniable that crime affects real people impacting the way in which we view and treat others, especially justice-involved individuals.

My friend’s story caused me to reflect upon my experience as a mediator, facilitating victim-offender mediations. Can the practice of bringing the victim, the perpetrator, and the community together work to repair the harm caused by crime? Yes, I believe it can. I have seen it work.

Restorative justice is a philosophy develops practices rooted in a holistic approach to address harm. It allows the individuals most affected by crime to decide how to best address the matter. It can be a transformational process that repairs relationships and even build new ones. Restorative practices recognize the importance of a victim-focused approach, allowing the victim to determine if and when they are ready to engage in the process.

So, as I listened to my friend’s story and saw her pain, I thought this could work for her when she is ready. Restorative justice practitioners work with victims to prepare them for this voluntary process. Some individuals work with practitioners for years before they are ready to hear the voice of the individual who caused them harm.

My friend and other crime survivors could benefit from restorative justice practices, as their voice is essential. These practices acknowledge the meaningful contribution of victims in this process. Currently, the criminal justice system does not elevate the voices of crime survivors, as the state takes that role. In this alternate structure, the victim decides with the perpetrator how to repair the harm.

Restorative practices are essential to improving the framework of our justice system. This new lens values the connection between the victim, offender, and the community. It allows for meaningful dialogue. In fact, it has the potential to transform how we as a society view the offender” and recognizes the human in all of us. It has the potential to heal that every day pain.