New book details the healing power of restorative justice

RICE LAKE — Local authors Monika Audette and Mary Hoeft have announced the release of their book, “From a Single Pebble: Barron County Restorative Justices Programs,” to tell the story of how the organization began and the impact it has had.

Monika Audette

“The book was more than a year in the making,” said Monika Audette, program operations leader of Barron County Restorative Justice Programs, a program of Goodwill NCW. “We hope it will appeal both to those wanting to start a program like ours and those interested in the touching stories that show how restorative justice heals.”

Mary Hoeft, professor emeritus of communication arts and French at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire-Barron County and a long-time restorative justice volunteer, said, “It was a work from my heart. I have witnessed the healing that comes to victims and offenders, and I want others to know about this powerful process.”

The book chronicles the impact Barron County Restorative Justice Programs has had on Barron County since the program’s inception in 1999, when Barron County Circuit Court Judge Ed Brunner set out to find a program that empowered victims and held offenders accountable in a new way.

Mary Hoeft

Mary Hoeft

Brunner sought a viable alternative to the incarceration of nonviolent offenders and found that alternative in a process called victim offender conferencing, which is now referred to as restorative conferencing.

Under the early leadership of then executive director Polly Wolner, Barron County Restorative Justice Programs began its work of restoring a community. Wolner expanded programming to include Victim Impact Panels, Teen Court, Prime for Life, and the School Community Outreach Program.

Twenty-one years after its formation, BCRJP’s menu of services also includes Safe Serve, Catch My Breath, Teen Traffic Violation Program and cognitive behavioral intervention programs for low- and medium-risk offenders.

Barron County Restorative Justice Programs, which became a program of Goodwill NCW in 2012, is considered one of the largest rural restorative justice programs in the country. Since its inception, more than 10,000 Barron County residents have felt the impact of restorative conferencing and another 10,000 residents have attended a Victim Impact Panel.

A 2008 study by UW-Eau Claire political science professor Dr. Eric Kasper confirmed the profound impact restorative justice had on Barron County, when he cited that the county’s juvenile arrest rate had decreased at a pace faster than the juvenile arrest rates in all of Wisconsin’s 71 remaining counties combined.

A 2019 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute confirmed the impact Prime for Life and Victim Impact Panels were having on the drinking behavior of Barron County residents. Between 2013 and 2017, Barron County ranked lowest in the number of alcohol-related driving deaths in Wisconsin.

Since the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd, community leaders across the country have called for an investment in community-based models of safety, support and prevention. Audette and Hoeft wrote their book so community leaders throughout the country could learn about the success of each of BCRJP’s restorative programs and discover that the programs fit their communities’ needs.

“From a Single Pebble: Barron County Restorative Justice Programs” is available for purchase online at Beginning Jan. 8, copies will be available to purchase at the Barron County Restorative Justice Programs office, 323 E. La Salle Ave., Barron. An open house and book signing will be held 1-3 p.m. Jan. 8. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go toward funding BCRJP.

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