Northern Virginia program aims to help crime survivors, keep youth out of criminal justice system

A new program in Northern Virginia aims to help survivors of crime, and keep young people out of the criminal justice system.

The Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church launched “Heart of Safety.” Under this program, both the person who was harmed and the person who did the harm will be able to participate in a conferencing process overseen by a trained facilitator, and they will work together to come up with a mutually agreed upon restoration plan.

The cases identified as appropriate for the program will go through a rigorous process, including consent, individual conversations, agreement between the parties on a restoration plan, and follow-up.

“It will apply to certain misdemeanors or felonies, where either the victim or the person who committed the crime was 26 years old or under at the time of the incident, according to a statement released by the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

“Heart of Safety is about survivors’ rights, youth rehabilitation, and crime prevention; for survivors, it’s the peace of mind of taking charge of their recovery,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti said. “For young people, it’s a second chance to make right what they did wrong; and for the community, it’s an investment in crime prevention.”

Dehghani-Tafti was elected in 2019, calling for a less punitive criminal justice system.

In the statement, criminal justice reform advocates lent their support to the new initiative.

“Mass incarceration is one of the greatest civil rights injustices of our era,” said NAACP Vice President Mike Hemminger. “The implementation of this research-based program will surely have life-changing results for those who have interactions with our current punitive legal system.”

The facilitator will follow up with the participants to make sure that the restoration plan has been implemented and that both sides are satisfied. If the process is not successful, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney can initiate prosecution.

Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin is an anchor/reporter for WTOP. She started her career in New York City as a local TV reporter and has since covered foreign affairs and national politics as a Washington correspondent. She also anchored a nightly news show for an international network.

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