By Ken Steadman
The Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (better known as VORP) is a restorative justice approach that brings offenders face-to-face with the victims of their crimes and the assistance of a trained mediator. The crime is personalized as the offender learns the human consequences of their actions. Victims, who are generally overwhelmed by the criminal justice system, have the opportunity to speak their minds and feelings that help contribute to the healing process. In addition, a legal contract is developed between the victim and offender that must be approved by the court.
Offenders take a meaningful responsibility for their actions by mediating a restitution agreement with the victim to restore monetary or symbolic losses. It may consist of a payment plan, work for the victim, community service or anything else that creates a sense of justice between the victim and offender. More than 95 percent of the mediated cases result in a written restitution agreement; 90 percent of these agreements are completed within one year. On the other hand, the actual rate of payment of court-ordered restitution (nationally) is typically only 20-30 percent.
VORP organizations have been mediating meaningful justice between crime victims and offenders for more than 20 years. The VORP Community Center in Cumberland County was established in 1989 and was the second such agency in the state of Tennessee. There are currently 10 other VORPS in Tennessee including agencies in Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga. In addition, nearly 300 VORP organizations are serving the United States of America and more than 1,000 are in other countries in the world.
Joe Gittings is the current president of the VORP Mediation Center of Cumberland County. He is a native of Pittsburgh, PA, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh but spent most of his life living in Massachusetts. His business life was spent in sales engineering positions in the Specialty Steel and Fluid Power Industry.
Prior to moving to Tennessee, Joe and his wife Joan lived in Cape Cod enjoying fishing, boating clamming and catching a few lobsters. They now live in Pleasant Hill, where Joe met founder and then VORP President Leonard Stark who introduced him to the mediation process. Joe became a member of the VORP Board of Directors in 2011 and was elected to take Starks place as president when Len retired in 2012. Joe’s enthusiasm for social justice and belief in VORP’S “restorative justice” mission will help continue the challenges this agency faces for 2013 and beyond.
The VORP Mediation Center of Cumberland County has made a lasting impression on the community for the past 24 years. They have provided free, neutral and accessible volunteer mediation service for more than 8,000 cases. Please keep in mind that each case requires at least two people, so in reality, more than 16,000 citizens of Cumberland County have received benefit. In addition, more than $300,000 has been returned to victims through restitution.
Rita Young has been the executive director of Cumberland County VORP for more than 10 years. She has made a lasting contribution to the community as well as the entire State of Tennessee. She has gained much respect from the office of the Tennessee Supreme Court, many Cumberland County attorneys, prosecutors and General Sessions Court judges. She has obtained funding from United Fund, city of Crossville, local churches, individuals and other grants, as well free office space from Cumberland County at 584 Highway 70 East.
Other VORP Board members are Vice President Ken Steadman, Treasurer Karen Cole, Secretary Leroy Hammond, Bert Adams, Jon Goodwin, and Andrea Van Rekom. Please call 484-0972 or e-mail vorp.Crossville@gmail.com to learn more about becoming a volunteer mediator or any additional information.