July | August 2019

OJJDP Restorative Justice Working Group: Biographies

James C. Backstrom has been the County Attorney in Dakota County (MN) since 1987; he previously served as an assistant county attorney for 9 years. He is a member of the board of directors of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and twice served as president of the organization. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the National District Attorneys Association and cochaired the association’s Juvenile Justice Committee for more than a decade.

Mr. Backstrom has been involved in establishing standards for drug and other treatment courts throughout the state in his work on the Minnesota Supreme Court’s Chemical Dependency Task Force in 2005–06 and the Judicial Council’s Drug Court Initiative Advisory Committee (now Treatment Court Initiative Advisory Committee), on which he has served since its inception in 2007. In addition, Mr. Backstrom helped establish the Dakota County Adult Drug Court in 2008.

Pastor Travis Claybooks is founder and CEO of the Raphah Institute in Nashville, TN, a nonprofit organization that helps empower people and communities to heal from the effects of trauma by designing and implementing education, advocacy, and treatment systems. The institute’s Restorative Justice Diversion Program serves youth under the age of 18 who have committed low-level felony offenses. While the youth have been arrested for their offenses, they have not yet gone through the traditional court process. 

The Raphah Institute uses “restorative community conferencing,” a highly supported and coordinated, in-person conversation between youth who have caused harm, those whom they have harmed, and their impacted communities. In the process, all parties work together to understand the impact of the offense and the historical trauma that may be associated with the offense, and create a plan that supports the juvenile's transformation as they work to repair, according to the victim’s stated needs, the harm that has been caused.

Sharletta C. Evans is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Victim and Offender Mitigation Initiative, Inc., and the 5280 Survivors and 5280 Survivors Network, Inc.

After the loss of her 3-year-old son in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting in 1995, Ms. Evans became the executive director of Red Cross Blue Shield Gang Prevention, Inc. In 2003, she established the Re-Creation Center, an anti-gang nonprofit, with a staff of 32 adults, young adults, and teens.

Ms. Evans is an advocate of restorative justice and the elimination of extreme sentences for children and youth. Colorado’s Department of Corrections chose Ms. Evans to be the first crime victim/family survivor to participate in the department’s High-Risk/Impact Victim Offender Dialogue program. She campaigned in Colorado and Washington, DC, for a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders; and a later ruling that held that the 2012 decision should be applied retroactively. In 2016, the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth honored Ms. Evans with the Hope and Healing Award.

Christina McMahan is the Juvenile Department Director for Clackamas County (OR). Previously, she served as director of the Juvenile Services Division (JSD) in Multnomah County (OR), where she worked to expand partnerships between JSD and the community and focused on the need to analyze racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. She also has served as director of the Juvenile Department in Douglas County (OR), deputy attorney/juvenile team leader for the Deschutes County (OR) District Attorney’s Office, and as a deputy district attorney for the Marion County (OR) District Attorney’s Office, assigned to the Juvenile Unit.

Ms. McMahan is a member of the Oregon State Bar, Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, and Juvenile Justice Leadership Network of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University. She currently is cochair of Oregon’s Juvenile Justice Information System (JJIS) Steering Committee and chair of the JJIS Data and Evaluation Committee. She previously served as a regional representative for the American Probation and Parole Association, member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Crime Victim Compliance Advisory Committee and board of directors, and legislative chair of the Oregon Juvenile Department Directors Association.

Sandra Pavelka, Ph.D., is Professor of Political Science/Public Administration and Director of the Institute for Youth and Justice Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University. Dr. Pavelka also serves as president and CEO of Pavelka Consulting Group/Community and Restorative Justice Associates, offering training and technical assistance in the areas of restorative justice, juvenile justice, restorative strategies in schools, gender-responsive programming, community building and engagement, public policy, and program evaluation. She previously was project administrator of the Balanced and Restorative Justice Project, funded by OJJDP.

Dr. Pavelka is a member of the Advisory Council of the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice and the Advisory Committee for the U.S. Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus. She is the recipient of the Point of Light award from the Points of Light Foundation and the McTarnaghan Teaching Award from Florida Gulf Coast University’s Student Government.

Jon Powell is an attorney who serves as the director of the Restorative Justice Clinic at the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University in Raleigh, NC. The program receives referrals from the juvenile justice system, adult criminal court, and Wake County (NC) schools and runs restorative “victim impact circles” in state and federal prisons. The program’s goals include providing participants the opportunity to take responsibility for and become accountable for their actions, victims the opportunity to learn about and be intimately involved in the outcome of their case, and all parties the opportunity to create an agreement that will address and resolve the harm caused by criminal activity. The project actively involves law students in the process of victim-offender dialog.

Previously, Mr. Powell practiced law in Wake and Harnett (NC) counties, where his primary focus was on criminal defense with an emphasis on juvenile law.

Kay Pranis, a restorative justice expert, teaches and writes about the dialog process known as “peacemaking circles.” Ms. Pranis learned about peacemaking circles in her work in restorative justice in the mid-1990s. From 1994 to 2003, she held the position of restorative justice planner at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, the first government position in the United States related directly to the framework of restorative justice. Since that initial exposure to the use of peacemaking circles in the justice system, Ms. Pranis has been involved in developing this process in schools, social services, churches, families, neighborhoods, museums, universities, municipal planning, and workplaces.

Ms. Pranis has authored or coauthored Peacemaking Circles—From Conflict to CommunityThe Little Book of Circle Processes—A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking; Doing Democracy with Circles—Engaging Communities in Public Planning; Heart of Hope—A Guide for Using Peacemaking Circles to Develop Emotional Literacy, Promote Healing & Build Healthy Relationships; and Circle Forward—Building a Restorative School Community

Anne Seymour is a cofounder and senior advisor to the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Justice Solutions and director of the organization’s Fairness, Dignity & Respect for Crime Survivors project. She specializes in criminal and juvenile justice, restorative justice, crime victims' rights and services, and community safety.

Ms. Seymour has been an outspoken advocate for crime victims' rights and survivor services and has developed and implemented training and technical assistance programs to strengthen victims' rights and services in law enforcement, prosecution, the judiciary, juvenile justice, and community and institutional corrections.

She coauthored the 1992 landmark study, Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. She is also the coauthor of the American Correctional Association's 1994 Report and Recommendations on Victims of Juvenile Offenders and the Office for Victims of Crime’s (OVC’s) Special Report on Victims of Gang Violence. Ms. Seymour is a principal author of the OVC-sponsored National Victim Assistance Academy text, The Ultimate Educator, and OVC’s Juvenile Court Response to Victims of Juvenile Offenders, Victim Services in Juvenile Corrections, and The Victim Role in Offender Reentry: A Community Response Manual.

Ms. Seymour is a member of the board of directors of the National Victims Constitutional Amendment Network, the Clery Center for Security on Campus, the Pretrial Justice Institute, and the International Organization for Victim Assistance. She is former cochair of the American Correctional Association Restorative Justice Committee; founding member of the American Probation and Parole Association Victim Issues Committee; and a former senior consultant to the Balanced and Restorative Justice Project. Ms. Seymour has received numerous national awards in recognitions of her efforts.

Steven C. Teske is Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court of Clayton County (GA). He was appointed juvenile court judge in 1999 and also serves as a superior court judge by designation. Judge Teske has testified before Congress on four occasions and several state legislatures on detention reform and zero tolerance policies in schools.

The Governor of Georgia has appointed Judge Teske to the Children and Youth Coordinating Council, Governor’s Office for Children and Families, Department of Juvenile Justice Judicial Advisory Council, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Statewide Steering Committee, Georgia Commission on Family Violence, and Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Commission. Judge Teske served two terms on the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and is the national chair of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. He is a member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and has served on the organization’s board of directors. He is past president of the Georgia Council of Juvenile Court Judges and the Clayton County Bar Association.

Judge Teske has written articles on a range of juvenile justice reform topics, including his model for school/justice partnerships, published in the Juvenile and Family Law Journal, Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, Juvenile Justice and Family Today, Family Court Review, and the Georgia Bar Journal. His book, Reform Juvenile Justice Now, offers a collection of essays on juvenile justice issues.

Judge Teske is the 2018 recipient of the Juvenile Law Center Leadership Prize. He is also a Toll Fellow of the Council of State Governments and an adjunct law professor at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, GA.

Doug Thomas is the Policy and Implementation Manager for the Oregon Youth Authority’s (OYA’s) Juvenile Justice Information System (JJIS). In this role, Mr. Thomas provides strategic direction and manages the JJIS Business Implementation Unit to facilitate the effective use of the JJIS in county juvenile departments and the OYA. He oversees policy development, standardization, and implementation of the JJIS to ensure consistent practices in data entry and collection among Oregon’s juvenile justice partners.

Prior to OYA, Mr. Thomas was a senior research associate for 26 years with the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), the research division of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. NCJJ is a private, nonprofit organization that promotes justice for children and families through research and technical assistance. In addition to conducting research, NCJJ provides objective, factual information for decisionmakers in the juvenile and family justice systems to use in improving system effectiveness.

Ramkanta Tiwari is the Director of the Nepal Forum for Restorative Justice. Trained as a lawyer, he began working in the fields of peacebuilding and restorative justice in 2007. Since 2012, he has been working specifically to introduce and establish restorative justice in Nepal.

Mr. Tiwari has worked with Nepal’s maiden projects on restorative justice in both formal judicial and community systems. As a member of Nepal’s first-ever Restorative Justice Development Committee, he was involved in producing a national training curriculum on restorative justice, a milestone in Nepal’s advances to restorative justice. He has also worked with community organizations to develop programs and manuals on restorative justice, community peace circles, healing, and reparations. He is the author of Restorative Justice: Justice by Just Means (in Nepali).

Mr. Tiwari has previously worked with The Asia Foundation and has consulted for organizations such as Oxfam, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, and the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal in the areas of conflict transformation, peacebuilding, and restorative justice.

Mark Umbreit, Ph.D., is a professor and founding director of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work. Dr. Umbreit serves on the faculty of the Center for Spirituality and Healing in the Academic Health Center at the University of Minnesota and as a visiting professor at the Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.

He is an internationally recognized practitioner and scholar with more than 40 years of experience as a mediator, peacemaker, trainer, teacher, and researcher. He is the author of 11 books and more than 200 other publications in the fields of restorative justice, mediation, spirituality, forgiveness, and peacemaking. Over the past three decades, Dr. Umbreit has provided consultation and conducted training seminars and lectures in nearly every state and in 29 countries around the world.

Dr. Umbreit’s multisite and multinational research has contributed significantly to the development of restorative justice policy in the United States and other countries. Dr. Umbreit recently worked as a senior international consultant with the United Nations Development Program and the Ministry of Justice in Turkey to support their legislative efforts to implement victim-offender mediation throughout the country.

He is the founding president of the National Association for Community and Restorative Justice in the United States.

Laura Corbett Wilt is Chief Assistant State’s Attorney and Chief of the Juvenile Division in Frederick County (MD). She has been an assistant state’s attorney for more than 21 years, and 14 of those years have been dedicated to the juvenile court. As chief of the Juvenile Division, Ms. Wilt is responsible for supervising all litigation within the division. She personally handles all cases and decisions involving the prosecution of juveniles in the adult court system as well as the decisions concerning transfer and waiver.

Ms. Wilt created and manages the State’s Attorney’s Office Youth with Problematic Sexual Behaviors Diversion Program. She also handles the litigation of the serious juvenile sexual offense cases in the juvenile court.

Ms. Wilt serves on the Crossover Youth Implementation Team, the county’s Child Fatality Review Board, participates with the County Human Trafficking Task Force, and serves as a liaison member of the American Bar Association’s Juvenile Justice Standards Task Force. In addition to her work in the office, she is active in the community as a church children’s ministry leader, a volleyball coach, and a Girl Scout leader.