Campus News

Repairing harm, reducing risk: UW-Madison Restorative Justice Project facilitates victim-offender dialogues

Many victims and survivors said the victim-offender dialogue program was a positive experience they would highly recommend to another person, according to Restorative Justice Project director Johnathan Scherrer. 

Many victims and survivors said the victim-offender dialogue program was a positive experience they would highly recommend to another person, according to Restorative Justice Project director Johnathan Scherrer. 

Image By: Zoe Bendoff

The Restorative Justice Project, sponsored by UW-Madison’s Law School, aims to serve victims and survivors in the aftermath of serious crimes by providing victim-offender dialogues. 

The Victim-Offender Dialogue program is an opportunity for victims, survivors and their relatives to meet with the individuals who have committed crimes against them. This process is completely confidential and voluntary on both sides. 

Crimes could include: homicide, sexual assault, incest, child abuse, domestic violence, kinapping/false imprisonment, robbery, armed robbery and burglary, among others. 

Jonathan Scherrer, the director of the Restorative Justice Project, is a clinical assistant professor in the Law School with a seat on the Advisory Council for the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice.

By facilitating a dialogue between a victim and their offender, the victim is able to have their questions answered, leading to reduced trauma in the aftermath of the crime. 

“By providing them a means of engaging with one another in a very positive way, we’ve seen really incredible outcomes,” Scherrer said. 

The dialogue works to humanize both sides in order to come to an understanding, according to Scherrer, who recalled when a victim advocated for the release of their offenders after their discussion. 

Alongside their dialogue program, the Restorative Justice Project also focuses on teaching students restorative practices in local communities. They provide opportunities for students to address conflict and harm in their own neighborhoods and schools in a coalition with the Dane County Community Restorative Court. 

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