Program seeks volunteers | RecordCourier.com

Program seeks volunteers

Andy Bourelle

The Family Support Council’s ASPEN program is designed to help reconcile relationships between juvenile offenders and their victims – and volunteers are needed.

ASPEN is a program where the volunteers mediate between the victims and the juvenile offenders.

The theory behind ASPEN is that while being a victim of crime is devastating, it can be even more upsetting when the offender is a juvenile. In the court process, the victim is often excluded and left feeling unsatisfied with the process. ASPEN’s restorative justice program tries to help.

ASPEN volunteers take on one or more cases, contact both the victim and juvenile offender, and set up a meeting between them. The meeting gives the victim and juvenile a chance to talk about the incident. The offender can explain what he or she was thinking at the time the crime was committed, while the victim can tell the juvenile how the crime affected his or her life.

“A lot of times, because of time constraints, victims are not part of the judicial process,” said ASPEN coordinator Martie Graham-Jones. “This gives them the opportunity to speak up and make the decision ‘this is what is important to me.’ For the juvenile, it is an opportunity for them to put it (the crime) behind them.”

Graham-Jones, new to the project, said she had sent surveys to find out how successful victims who previously used the program thought it was. Although only a few have been returned so far, she said they were “full of wonderful information.”

“One victim, although he wouldn’t choose to be a victim,” Graham-Jones said, “he said, ‘it was very healing for me to have them talk to me, hear me out.'”

The victim and the juvenile have the opportunity to work out restitution during the meeting. The court often administers a punishment, Graham-Jones said, which doesn’t necessarily leave the victim feeling like justice was served. If a case goes through the ASPEN program, the victim and offender have the opportunity to change the restitution decided by Juvenile Probation.

If the two agree on a new restitution, they sign a contract and it is a binding document. The restitution change can range from a dollar amount, to community service, to just an apology – whatever both parties want.

“Sometimes it’s not an amount of money people want, but a sense of security,” Graham-Jones said. “People are victims in a variety of ways. To make things right, you don’t necessarily need dollars and cents.”

Graham-Jones is taking over for John Enos, who founded the program in 1995. She said Enos had kept track of the program’s success, and only five of the 34 juvenile offenders who used ASPEN have been arrested again.

ASPEN is funded by the Juvenile Justice Department and the Byrne Memorial Grant. It is part of the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP), a national organization.

Elaine Enns, who does training nationally for VORP, will be training Douglas County volunteers. The next training is Dec. 5 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. and continuing Dec. 6 from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Family Support Council, 1255 Waterloo Lane, Gardnerville.

Graham-Jones said if volunteers take on only one case at a time, it is not significantly time consuming. Volunteers are allowed to do more than one if they would like. ASPEN has seven volunteers presently.

Those interested should call Graham-Jones at 782-8692.