Last updated: August 25. 2013 8:07AM - 65 Views

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OTTAWA — It’s hard to imagine a juvenile offender and his or her victim sitting down and calmly talking, the whole ordeal ending positively.With the help of Bluffton University mediators, Putnam County Juvenile Court Judge David Gerschutz said he believes it’s possible.“We really think the victims will get something out of this,” Gerschutz said. “We think that when this is all done we will have less repeaters.”The school, which has trained 53 mediators since 2006, will provide co-mediators to meet with offenders, their parents and the victims. The school recently hired its first mediation coordinator, Janet Mitchell, who will oversee the program.The school approached the court about the program, which is based on the concept of restorative justice. Mike Lenza, professor of criminal justice, said restorative justice views crime as a violation of human relationships, and works to heal and address the victims’ and offenders’ needs.“The evidence is pretty overwhelming that with similar restorative justice programs, they help victims heal,” he said. “They also develop a capacity within communities for nonviolent resolutions to disputes and issues.”The program will be voluntary. Gerschutz expects to refer juveniles who have committed crimes such as property damage and truancy. The program could eventually include other crimes, including assault.Offenders could have their records expunged if they complete the program. Four offenders have already been referred to the program. Mitchell said co-mediators will meet with both parties together.“They will sit down and talk about what they need, and hopefully come to an agreement that will last,” she said.It’s expected that juveniles will see and hear on a personal level the harm caused by their actions, hopefully keeping them from doing it again. Victims will better understand the offenders’ actions, including why they were the victim. Lenza said that often takes away some of the fear victims experience.“It helps both sides deal with it,” Lenza said, adding that the two sides can then face each other in the future.Students, university staff and community people have received the training. The program is funded by the school’s Pathways to Missions and Vocation.For information on the program, call 419-358-3068 or go to www.bluffton.edu/rel/pcs/.

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