In March of 2020, Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck initiated the Restorative Justice Program to allow crime victims the opportunity to confront offenders in a controlled setting with the assistance of a trained facilitator.
There are many community-based Restorative Justice Programs operating throughout the United States and Canada, but most are outside the criminal justice system. What sets Cumberland County’s program apart is that it is an integral part of Cumberland County’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. Prosecutors from the District Attorney Office initiate most referrals to the program.
Restorative Justice is first and foremost a program of healing for the victim. Participation is voluntary for victims and no restorative justice session is held if a victim does not want to participate.
Fred Van Liew, a trained facilitator and former prosecuting attorney, works on contract for the Cumberland County District Attorney and facilitates the restorative justice sessions, also called Victim-Offender Dialogues. Mr. Van Liew serves as a neutral third party, has no stake in the outcome and does not represent the justice system.
Most Dialogues begin with an overview of the status of the case. The session then proceeds with a recounting by the victim of the facts surrounding the crime. The victim typically moves to a discussion of the emotions surrounding the crime, and the resulting anxieties and fears that can linger - sometime for months or even years. The offender is confronted about his or her involvement in the crime, the extent to which it was planned, why the victim was chosen, etc.
Following a review of all the issues relevant to both the victim and the offender, there is a discussion about restitution. If there is to be financial compensation, a dollar amount is agreed upon and a payment plan established. The written agreement is later presented to the court for approval prior to sentencing or following sentencing as a supplemental order.
Theoretically, there are no crimes that are not appropriate for a Victim-Offender Dialogue. The primary determinant of whether a session will take place is the readiness of the victim and the offender. Dialogues are held ranging from shoplifting, assault, and minor property damage cases to car theft, embezzlement, burglary, and robbery. Restorative Justice is even available in so-called “victimless” crimes.
For more information about the Restorative Justice Program, call the Cumberland County District Attorney Office at (207) 871-8384.