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Using the Internet to Help Victims and Offenders Heal

OASIS -- Offender Accountability Synergistic Interaction Service -- uses the Internet to educate victims and community about restorative justice, to provide a safe place for victims express the impact of crime, and to allow offenders offer to make amends with their victim and community.

James Jones, an ex-offender, developed the OASIS program. His experiences of reconciling with his victim and of directing Victims First, a juvenile restorative justice program, led to the creation of OASIS. Victims First works with at-risk youth and those already involved in the justice system.  The youth learn firsthand about the impact of crime on victims as they work for crime victims, often in crime scene clean-up or in other service areas. Victims are encouraged to talk with the youth about their experiences and how those have a continuing impact . In turn, the young people are asked to write their own feelings in a journal as well as to share their experience and emotions with others. The program also seeks to help with self-confidence and life skills. These same elements can be seen in the OASIS program. 

Currently a pilot project with the Nebraska Department of Corrections, OASIS is a multi-faceted program using both the Internet and classroom-based training in its mission to 

"…provide communication choices and solutions to survivors of crime and to offenders who wish to share their voices, seek information, and continue personal growth while working towards restoring and strengthening our communities." 

Within this context, victim safety and confidentiality are important components of the programme. OASIS seeks to be a safe place for victims’ voices to be heard and their needs to be met.  Victim services include:

  • Receiving information about victims services (agencies, etc.)
  • Posting victim impact statementsPosting a desire to meet with the offender
  • Retrieving offenders’ apology letters
  • Retrieving offenders’ reports of self-improvement efforts
  • Checking if the willingness of offenders to meet

The project requires that victims go through an application process. The application asks for information about the offender and the crime and what services the victim would like to receive.   

To participate in OASIS, offenders must complete an eight-hour restorative justice workshop.  The purpose of the workshop is to

  • Teach peaceful conflict resolution skills
  • Explain the short and long term trauma experienced by crime victims
  • Enable the processing of feelings
  • Enable offenders to write effective apology letters
  • Prepare offenders for dialogue between victims and offenders

After the workshop, offenders may post their apology letters, reports of their self-improvement efforts, and their willingness to meet their victim. They are not able to contact their victim. The dialogue process is designed to be victim-driven. If the offender posts a willingness to meet, the victim can request such a meeting. The OASIS organization will then refer the victim to a mediation center to have the face-to-face meeting. 

Offenders who take the OASIS workshop are not required to participate in the web forum. Also, while offenders convicted of crimes against minors, domestic or child abuse, and sexual offenses are allowed to attend the workshops, they are not allowed to use the website.  

The first OASIS workshop was held in January 2001 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Evaluation summaries are done after the workshops. The evaluations ask participants about their understanding of the impact of crime on victims, the principles of restorative justice principles, and the need for them to make amends.  In a recent workshop at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women, 85% of the thirteen participants agreed that they understood the obligation they had toward their victims and 92% said they understood the impact of crime on victims. All 13 were willing to participate in the website.  In a workshop with male offenders, 86% understood their obligation to make amends, 71% realized the impact of the crime on victims, and 84% were willing to participate in the website.  

For more information: 

PO Box 30856

Lincoln, NE 68503

E-mail: OASISNE@msn.com

Web address: http://www.oasis-ne.org/

 

Lynette Parker

October  2002

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