Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools


Va. OKs bill to let violent crime victims meet with death row inmates

Apr 27, 2010

from Dena Potter's story on

Lorraine Whoberry tried for years to meet face-to-face with her daughter's killer before he was executed last month. She was repeatedly denied.

So the day after she witnessed his execution, Whoberry sat down with Gov. Bob McDonnell and asked for his help. A bill was making its way through the Virginia General Assembly that would allow victims of violent crime to meet with the perpetrators, but it excluded those on death row and juveniles.

McDonnell amended the bill to allow victims to meet with inmates on death row. On Wednesday, the General Assembly unanimously approved the change.

Although more than half of the states have victim-offender mediation programs, advocates said Virginia would be one of the first to cement it in state law. Virginia also becomes one of only a handful that allow meetings with death row inmates.

“Even though it's not going to affect us, at least we've got something done,” Whoberry said when told about the change.

Even in states that offer victim-offender meetings, "there are a thousand bureaucratic road blocks put in the way," said Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship, a national prison ministry.

"The system has a paternalistic view that they know better than the victim, they're trying to protect the victim," he said. "In most cases, the victims have great difficulty getting in to see the offenders."

And while many states allow the meetings only for nonviolent offenses, more are warming to the idea of letting victims of violent crimes visit with inmates, even on death row, said Lisa Rea, a California restorative justice consultant and founder of The Justice and Reconciliation Project.

One reason, she said: More and more victims are demanding the right.

....Currently, victims must request a meeting in writing, and requests are approved or rejected based on the type of crime committed, the inmate's behavior and security level, mental health issues and the reason for the visit. On average, the department receives 10 to 15 such requests a year, and half are approved.

But meetings with condemned inmates are forbidden.

That came as a shock to Whoberry when she was denied after her daughter's killer, Paul Warner Powell, agreed to meet with her. Powell attempted to rape her 16-year-old daughter, Stacie Reed, and then stabbed her when she fought him off in 1999. He waited for her 14-year-old sister to come home and then raped and stabbed her, but she lived.

“I was under the impression I had rights,” she said. “But I keep finding out I don't. The offender has more rights than we do.”

Powell's attorney, Jonathan Sheldon, tried to arrange a meeting, but also was denied. In the end — a day before Powell died by electrocution March 18 — Sheldon arranged to have Whoberry and her family come to his office and talk to Powell for more than two hours over the phone.

For Whoberry, “it brought that monster into being a human being,” she said.

They talked about his newfound faith, his life in prison and how he dealt with what he had done. The family asked questions, and Whoberry said she left with a feeling of peace that had avoided her in the 11 years since her daughter Stacie's murder.

“As a victim and survivor there's things you want to say to them that only you can say to them, and they need to hear it,” Whoberry said. “They need to hear it from you.” The more serious or violent the crime, the more the victims benefit from meeting with the offender, Nolan said. Often, criminals take plea bargains. Even if they go to trial, victims often never really get their questions answered.

Read the full article.

Related content
Related content
Victim-Offender Dialogue

Document Actions

Jack Payden-Travers
Jack Payden-Travers says:
Apr 29, 2010 11:37 AM

This is a very positive step for Virginia. It will be of interest to see how this law is implemented by the Department of Corrections which as of last fall blocked visiting rights for all but immediate family members of those on death row. Does anyone have suggestions for the best methods presently in use by other death row states? Is there a website which compiles death row regulations for the 35 states still maintaining death rows?

Martin Wright
Martin Wright says:
Apr 29, 2010 06:51 PM

Maybe we should have a law like this in the UK - with death row replaced by life imprisonment, of course. But I would insert some safeguards - both parties should have some preparation before finally going ahead. Suppose the offender is totally unco-operative, and insults the memory of the person he or she killed or injured, the victim's relative should at least be made aware of this. Have mediators, and relatives, with experience of these encounters been consulted about this legislation and how it will be put into effect? Will training be required for those who administer it? <br />

lisa rea
lisa rea says:
Apr 29, 2010 06:51 PM

Jack, I think this is new and fertile ground. I would be very surprised if there are any regulations regarding visits between victims and offenders on death row---apart from states prohibiting such meetings. <br /> <br />Regardless, it seems that guidance should be provided to Virginia, or any other state, from a restoraive justice perspective. How can we do it better? <br /> <br />I applaud the Governor's office of Virginia for including this group of offenders in the legislation. He, in this case, listened to the pleas of the victim of violent crime requesting access to the offender. This victim was starting her right to restorative justice--whether she used those words or not. <br /> <br />I think there is an opportunity for restorative justice advocates to influence how restorative justice meetings take place around the U.S. <br />This is indeed an important opening. <br /> <br />Lisa Rea <br />Rea Consulting <br />Victims-Driven Restorative Justice <br />California <br /> <br />

Martin Wright
Martin Wright says:
Apr 30, 2010 12:07 PM

Good that it has to be done through a Victim/Witness Assistance Program - but are such programs restoratively minded, or do they think they are serving the victim by heaping shame on the offender? <br />&nbsp; <br />In addition to what I said, the law needs to be amended: <br />&nbsp; <br />1. Meet with the offender in a safe, controlled environment in accordance with the policies established pursuant to subsection B of &sect; 53.1-30; <br />&nbsp; <br />Subsection B should allow the facilitator to visit the prisoner in advance of any such meeting, and to accompany the victim. <br />&nbsp; <br />It would be good if the Department of Corrections issued guidance to prison wardens explaining what restorative encounters are trying to achieve, for both the victim and the offender. <br />&nbsp; <br />I believe that in Belgium, every prison has a Restorative Justice Officer to handle everything of this kind - and possibly the use of mediation for disputes between prisoners, or between prisoners and staff. The European Forum for RJ (which as you know is based in Belgium) could tell you more about that. You probably know the book by Kimmett Edgar (Prison Reform Trust) and Tim Newell (former prison governor (warden) , Quaker): Restorative justice in prisons: a guide to making it happen. Waterside Press 2006. <br /> <br />Martin 30.4.2010 <br />&nbsp; <br />

Lorraine Gilmartin
Lorraine Gilmartin says:
Jan 26, 2014 01:09 PM

I totally empathise with Lorraine Whoberry. I live in the UK and am being refused a meeting with the murderer of my partner, although we don't have a death row here. I cannot even send him a letter as I am forbidden in knowing which prison he is in !!!

Martin Wright
Martin Wright says:
Feb 05, 2014 09:54 AM

Lorraine G, you might be interested in Lesley Moreland's book 'An ordinary murder'(Aurum Press 2001).She eventually saw her daughter's murderer, with help from the prison chaplaincy.

Martin Wright
Martin Wright says:
Feb 05, 2014 10:00 AM

PS. See also American case histories from the organization Victims' Voices Heard: Susan L Miller, 'After the crime: the power of restorative justice dialogues between victims and violent offenders',(New York University Press 2010). Have you contacted the Restorative Justice Council or the victims' organization 'Why me?' ?

Add comment

You can add a comment by filling out the form below. Plain text formatting. Comments are moderated.

RJOB Archive
View all

About RJOB




Eric Assur portlet image