Conference on restorative justice to be held Oct. 6 at university

Conference on restorative justice to be held Oct. 6 at university A conference on restorative justice, which will include a presentation by one of the leading experts in the field, will be held at The University of South Dakota Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Sessions, which are open to the public, will be held from 8 a.m. � noon and 1:15-4:15 p.m. in Farber Hall of Old Main.

The focus of the wide-ranging series of speakers, demonstrations and other presentations throughout the day will be to acquaint the public with the ideas behind restorative justice, an increasingly popular criminal justice philosophy.

A popular application of restorative justice mediates differences between the victims and the offenders. At the conference, model programs demonstrating this new approach to justice will be presented including those Clay and Yankton county officials are incorporating into their judicial operations.

USD criminal justice Professor John Gehm, who is organizing the conference with the help of USD students Amy Ellis of Whiting, IA, and Chauntal Taggart of Yankton, says restorative justice is an important criminal justice concept to study.

"Crime causes injuries. Injuries create obligations. Justice means making things right," Gehm said. "Restorative justice simply emphasizes the offender's personal accountability to those he or she has harmed, including the community, and addresses the needs and frustrations of citizens and victims who feel left out of the criminal justice system."

A leading expert about restorative justice, Mark Umbreit, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Restorative Justice, will be featured at the conference. Other speakers will include USD law Professor Frank Pommersheim, South Dakota Court Administrator Mike Buenger as well as the Victim Offender Mediation Project (VOMP), a group comprised of USD students, community volunteers and Region I Court Services staff.

Sponsored jointly by the USD criminal justice studies program and the South Dakota Unified Judicial System, the conference will showcase a number of nationally recognized programs currently being offered by South Dakota's Court Services, including teen courts and victim impact panels and others, to emphasize in a cost-effective manner community safety and offender accountability.

Umbreit, who speaks at 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., will discuss his 20 years of experience in the field as a mediator and researcher. He will also talk about his recent work in using the restorative justice approach for more serious crimes involving interpersonal violence including homicide.

Umbreit's work in restorative justice has focused on victim-offender mediation programs. Such programs involve a face-to-face voluntary meeting between a crime victim and offender in the presence of a trained mediator. Meetings typically involve a dual focus — discussion of the facts and feelings concerning the crime and its aftermath and a determination as to appropriate restitution.

Agreements are then reviewed and approved by the court. Nationwide there are approximately 125 programs, most of which deal with property-related offenses such as theft, burglary and vandalism.

Pommersheim will discuss a "tribal law perspective" on the concept of restorative justice at 1:15 p.m. Buenger will discuss restorative justice from a statewide perspective at 9:30 a.m. The VOMP, along with local representatives from the judicial system, will discuss the victim-offender mediation pilot program currently being organized in several southeast South Dakota counties at 2:30 p.m.

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