LANCASTER AREA VICTIMS OFFENDER RECONCILIATION PROGRAM
The Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (LAVORP) has a sincere commitment to making life better for victims, youthful offenders and the community through a distinctive team approach to juvenile crime. In partnership with Juvenile Probation and Youth Aid Panels, LAVORP carries out its mission by providing “unique opportunities for victim restoration and offender accountability with a focus on reconciliation, healing, restitution and safe communities in Lancaster County.” The end result is victim empowerment, reduced recidivism, lower cost of administering juvenile justice and safer communities.
LAVORP, a nonprofit, faith based organization, was organized in 1994 to complement the juvenile justice system. The system works with juvenile offenders by assigning consequences for breaking the law, while LAVORP works with victims and offenders to address the harm caused by crime. This latter, innovative approach known as victim-offender conferencing, had it recent beginnings wihin the faith community of Mennonites, well known for their peace work. By addressing the harm and broken relationships caused by crime the community is drawn closer to the Biblical concept of Shalom (Peace); which is the existence of right relationships among individuals, the community and God.
Volunteer Mediators work with offenders and victims to ascertain their interest in “making things right” as a result of a crime incident. Only with the permission of both parties do volunteer mediators arrange face-to-face meetings, which take place in a safe, neutral location to discuss the actions of the offender and address the needs of the victim. Offenders come acknowledging their wrongdoing, offering apologies and taking responsibility for their actions. They work towards an agreement regarding the victims’ needs and to restore matters as much as possible to the condition they were before the incident. Victims tell their stories, get answers to questions about what happened to them and why, arrange for restitution and better understand the juvenile that violated him/her. Both work towards building trust for the future.
During 2001, LAVORP volunteers worked with 205 incidents involving more than 500 victims and offenders, an increase of 15% over the year 2000. In the last two years, the number of volunteers has grown from 20 to 55. Volunteer mediators receive 27 hours of instruction in understanding personal relationships, victim empathy, offender accountability, listening skills, case development and role-plays.
LAVORP’s impact on the community is very positive. By working together , agreements between citims and offenders have a success rate of completion from 85% to 90% compared to court ordered restitution of 30%. Victims and offenders, through their own evaluations, express 85% satisfaction with the LAVORP process. Research has shown that juveniles who work with LAVORP are 50% less likely to repeat another crime compared to those who do not work with LAVORP.