Professor receives national honor for work to better lives of crime survivors

4 – minute read

Sandra Pavelka, professor of political science and public administration at Florida Gulf Coast University, received national recognition for helping marginalized and underserved youth, including crime victims in Southwest Florida.


Founding director of FGCU’s Institute for Youth and Justice Studies, Pavelka received the Lois Haight Award of Excellence and Innovation from the Congressional Crime Survivors and Justice Caucus. It was presented on Capitol Hill as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.


The award is named after a former California judge who served as the 1982 President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime chair and, as assistant attorney general, led early efforts to support crime victims’ rights. It is presented annually to someone who has significantly influenced the development and implementation of public policy on behalf of crime victims.

After more than two decades of work in restorative justice, she is a sought-after expert on the practice.


“Restorative justice seeks to examine the harmful impact of a crime and determine what can be done to repair that harm by involving the victim in the process, holding the wrongdoer accountable for his or her actions and engaging the community in the process,” she said.


That’s just one facet of Pavelka’s work in the community. She was among the Pace Center for Girls in Lee County’s founding board of directors and serves on its advisory board. Pace is a nationally recognized program combining academics and social services to improve the future of middle- and high school-aged girls, many of whom are crime survivors. “Dr. Pavelka has helped us perfect the restorative practices we do with our girls,” said Marianne Kearns, the center’s executive director.

FGCU professor Sandra Pavelka
Sandra Pavelka received the Lois Haight Award of Excellence and Innovation from the Congressional Crime Survivors and Justice Caucus.

Pavelka also is working with community leaders to help establish the Girls Coordinating Council of Southwest Florida. They aim to provide a system of care for girls at risk of delinquency, dependency or human trafficking, many of whom have been victimized by sexual or domestic violence, crime or substance abuse, she said.


She is involved with two federally funded grant projects she expects will have a positive effect in the region. Pavelka is co-director of the Justice for Families Project, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. The project involves numerous community partners working to coordinate a more effective, comprehensive response to the harm caused by domestic violence and related crimes.


She also is principal evaluator with the Fort Myers Reentry Initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Its goal is to reduce the recidivism of offenders released by the Florida Department of Corrections and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office by providing a restorative justice reintegration model.


Pavelka said her passion for advocating for at-risk and marginalized youth and assisting crime survivors stems from her time as a doctoral student in the 1990s at Florida Atlantic University. 

“It was an opportunity to be on the forefront of a national juvenile justice reform movement while working with justice system stakeholders, including judges, prosecutors, defenders, victims’ advocates and others to develop and implement restorative justice across the U.S.,” Pavelka said. “This opportunity became my life’s work – both professionally and personally. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t connect with a friend or colleague whom I met on my restorative justice journey.”


One of those friends and colleagues is Anne Seymour, co-founder and senior adviser of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Justice Solutions. Seymour and Pavelka met working for the Balanced and Restorative Justice Project in the 1990s. They went on to co-author an article published in Corrections Today in 2019 featuring guiding principles for victim- and survivor-focused restorative justice. With suggestions for legislation, best practices and future perspectives, it was a “seminal” article on the subject, according to Seymour.


“I was so thrilled when Sandi was honored with the Lois Haight Award of Excellence and Innovation,” Seymour said. “Judge Haight would love Sandi’s focus on youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system, including victims and survivors, and her wonky-ness about restorative justice laws and policy.”

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