The Virginia Center for Restorative Justice
Jan 19, 2011
How does a community establish a restorative justice program? It happens at the local level when committed individuals decide to make it happen. Take the Virginia Center for Restorative Justice (VCRJ), for example, a nonprofit established late last year in Richmond, Virginia.
VCRJ was founded by its Executive Director, Judy Clarke, a woman whose commitment to restorative justice is grounded in her abiding faith in God and in the fundamental goodness of humanity. But this journey began for Judy many years ago when she visited the Richmond City Jail for a day with a group of business leaders who were charged with finding a solution to the jail’s problems.
Not much changed at the jail, but this visit had a profound impact on Judy. It led her to be instrumental in establishing a restorative program in the Richmond Juvenile Court, even before restorative justice was a common term. She helped facilitate victim and offender conferencing until she began her public relations firm and the J & D program collapsed. She never forgot the difference those conferences made for the youth offenders and their victims.
In 2004, the Richmond League of Women Voters adopted a favorable restorative justice position. As an active League member, Judy followed the development of this position with interest.
After many years owning her own marketing firm, Judy was called to deepen her involvement in restorative justice by seeking a graduate degree in Conflict Transformation and Restorative Justice at Eastern Mennonite University. After beginning this program, Judy’s church called upon her to help with conflict that church members were experiencing. The church also became involved in a prison ministry that Judy led.
As the program grew, a non-profit organization to support and sustain the program’s growth beyond one prison seemed advisable. The ground was ripe for something to emerge.
Then Judy met Donna Chewning, Coordinator for the Restorative Justice Program in Roanoke, at a retreat in April, 2010. They immediately knew they had a shared mission. Donna has been Judy’s right hand supporter in establishing the training programs for those who will provide VCRJ services and in meetings with the Richmond Juvenile Court. Donna now serves as VCRJ’s juvenile court program coordinator.