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June 17, 2019

4/27/2019 7:30:00 AM
Building safer communities
Northwoods Restorative Justice aims to hold offenders accountable, give victims answers
Abigail Bostwick
Of The Lakeland Times

Commit a crime, go to jail.

Northwoods Restorative Justice, Inc., however, looks to "revisioning justice," the rehabilitation of offenders via reconciliation with victims and the community.

It's a potentially more affordable and viable alternative than bars which teaches responsibility and rehabilitation, notes new NRJ executive director Cookie Lough.

"Our main focus is we want the victims and the offender to get together," Lough said. "The offender takes responsibility for their actions and the victims get closure. They can say what they went through, (the offender) says they're sorry, and everyone can go on with their lives in a peaceful manner."

NRJ offers victims a voice in deciding how to right a wrong, Lough added. Through cooperation, communication and collaboration, an outcome favorable to all parties can often be reached, she said.

"Making a turnaround," Lough said of what she hopes offenders take from the program. "Going on with their lives in a productive manner."

The goal is to settle matters out of court while a contribution is made to the community, officers take an active role in their rehabilitation and victims find relief in a safe setting.

"We want to keep them out of court," Lough said. "For victims, it eases the tension. It can help reduce that fear. They can question them, and go on from there."

Referrals come from law enforcement, courts, social services, schools and communities. Typical cases are minor crimes such as vandalism, property crimes, theft, disorderly conduct and bullying.

While juveniles are most commonly the target of such programs, the opportunity for the NRJ in Oneida and Vilas counties exists for offenders of all ages.

NRJ itself has been in the area since 2002 with the mission to build "safer and stronger communities by implementing programs and practices that acknowledge the impact of crimes on victims, hold offenders accountable for their actions and promote healing, restoration and reintegration." It is funded by counties and donations.

Around 20 to 30 people go through NRJ each year, Lough said.

The approach also is more cost effective than jail and prison, Lough said. Cost of incarceration for a year in state prison for one person is $32,000, $18,000 for a year in jail, $8,000 per month for juvenile correction and $6,000 per month for a group home, it was indicated.

Lough took over as executive director a few months ago. She has a professional background in social services and recently relocated to the Sayner area to be near family.

Donations to support NRJ may be sent to: Northwoods Restorative Justice, P.O. Box 1744, Woodruff, WI 54568.





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