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Victim-Offender Dialogue

Articles on meetings of prisoners with their actual victims while they are in prison.

Workman, Kim. The Future of Restorative Justice – Control, Co-option, and Co-operation
This paper explores the history of restorative justice in New Zealand and lays out a course for the future.
Kottukapally, John Thomas. Reformative Programmes: Sycamore Tree Project
The Sycamore Tree Project, developed by Prison Fellowship International, is a program for prisoners to assist them in taking responsibility for their actions and to lead them from remorse to restitution. The program aims at achieving four objectives -- reconciliation, reparation, transformation and a reduction in reoffending. Sycamore Tree is a model of restorative justice applied within the context of a prison. It is an intensive 8 to 12 week faith-based in-prison program that brings groups of crime victims into prison to meet with groups of unrelated offenders. They discuss issues related to crime: its effect, the harm and how to set things right. Studies in North America and Europe have suggested that this kind of meeting can be useful for both victims and offenders. (excerpt)
Zehr, Howard. Mediating the Victim-Offender Conflict
This document, written by Howard Zehr, consists of a booklet that provides a rationale for and an overview of victim offender reconciliation programs (VORP). The VORP concept originated in Kitchener, Ontario, as a joint program of the probation department’s volunteer program and Mennonite Central Committee. From this beginning, Zehr introduces the VORP concept, describes the process, and explains the rationale for VORP from a criminal justice perspective and a Biblical perspective. A case study is presented to illustrate VORP in action. Additional resources – other victim offender reconciliation programs, other dispute resolution programs, and VORP materials – are identified at the end of the booklet.
Bradshaw, William and Umbreit, Mark S and Coates, Robert B. Victims of Severe Violence in Dialogue with the Offender: Key Principles, Practices, Outcomes and Implications
An increasing number of victims of sexual assault, attempted homicide, and survivors of murder victims are requesting the opportunity to meet the offender to express the full impact of the crime upon their life, to get answers to many questions they have, and to gain a greater sense of closure so that they can move on with their lives. In most cases this occurs many years after the crime has occurred and the actual mediation/dialogue session is held in a secure institution where the offender is located. Victim Services Units in six States are at various levels of developing a statewide protocol for allowing such an encounter between a victim/survivor of a severely violent crime and the offender. There have not been many studies of victim-offender mediation (VOM) in crimes of severe violence, but preliminary evidence indicates that the principles of restorative justice can be applied in selected cases of severe violence, particularly through the practice of VOM and dialogue. This requires a far more intense case development process. The "dialogue-driven" humanistic model of mediation offers a more victim-sensitive process that is also likely to engage the offender in a dialogue about the full impact of the offense. Preliminary data indicates exceptionally high levels of client satisfaction with the process and outcome of VOM and dialogue in crimes of severe violence. However, more rigorous studies involving larger samples are required. Criminal justice officials and individual mediators must not be quick to refer or facilitate the use of mediation and dialogue in crimes of severe violence without having first secured advanced training and mentoring. Many unintended negative consequences could result from such initiatives, including a significant re-victimization of the victim. Abstract courtesy of National Criminal Justice Reference Service,
Van Droogenbroeck, Bram. Victim offender mediation in severe crimes in Belgium: "What victims need and offenders can offer."
[M]ediation is also carried out in prison when the punishment is being served. In 2000 the Minister of Justice decided that restorative justice practices should be used in prisons. Since November 2000 restorative justice advisers have been working in almost every Belgian prison and one of their tasks has been to facilitate communication between victims and offenders. Mediation was first used in prisons in 2001 for convicted offenders and their victims.Mediation sessions were located outside the prison system in order to keep in line with the principles of restorative justice. Mediation started on an experimental basis; the inmates of three prisons and all the victims in the Flemish part of Belgium were offered the possibility to join a mediation programme. We did not want to discriminate the victims whose offender was in another prison. Since the Act on Victim Offender Mediation each party involved in a crime can ask for mediation. (excerpt)
Kearney, Niall. Issues of affecting victims of severe violence in the context of RJ in Scotland.
SACRO (Safeguarding Communities Reducing Offending) is the largest NGO (non governmental organisation) operating in the criminal justice sector in Scotland. SACRO has pioneered communication between those injured by crime and those responsible since the late ‘80s through its diversion from prosecution and Youth Justice services. Since 2002, a number of requests have been made to SACRO by Criminal Justice Social Work Departments and the Scottish Prison Service to facilitate communication within a post sentence context between those harmed by and those responsible for severe violent crime. SACRO has provided training from David Doerfler, an experienced Victim-Offender Mediator from Texas USA, to meet these requests. This has led to the development of a new SACRO initiative called TASC (Talk After Severe Crime), which operates to date on a limited spot purchase basis. In this new service the words ‘victim’ and ‘offender’ are replaced by: person injured and person responsible. The new service takes its language from the broader human sciences discourse in order to maximise the potential for increased understanding between all those affected. (excerpt)
Lee, Celine. The Power of Engaging Us All In Dialogue
A restorative justice practitioner in British Columbia, Celine Lee has experienced the criminal justice system in a number of ways: victim; victim support worker; victim-offender mediation participant; and criminal justice worker. In all these experiences, she claims she has grown all the more convinced of the power of dialogue. Lee recounts in brief her own journey from being a co-victim after the murders of her mother and sister, including ways in which a victim-offender mediation process helped her deal with the crimes.
Newell, Tim. Restorative Justice in Prisons: The Possibility of Change
Tim Newell served as a prison governor in England for over three decades. Retired from the Prison Service, he now works as a restorative justice facilitator. In this paper, he reports on a six month project he carried out as a Cropwood Fellow (a program of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University) on the potential of restorative practice in prisons. Specifically, through this project he examined the extent to which concepts of restorative justice, developed in community settings, can be applied in custodial settings. After defining restorative justice, he discusses some characteristics of correctional systems, the nature of his project and research method, and key results of his research.
Doerfler, David. Victim Offender Dialogue: Healing on a Deeper Level
Crime harms both the victim and the offender in many ways, including material and emotional forms. According to David Doerfler, long experienced in providing victim offender mediation programs and in training others for such programs, victim offender dialogue is a process that can enable victims and offenders to face that harm honestly and constructively, thus beginning or continuing a process of personal and relational healing. With this in mind, Doerfler explores certain aspects of victim offender dialogue, in particular the deep emotional needs of victims, and the role of the facilitator in relation to those needs.
Thom, George Lai and Sharpe, Susan. Making Sense of North American and South African Differences in the Practice of Restorative Justice.
These convictions are usually expressed independently, in response to different issues. It is easy to accept each on its own merits, seeing them as separate criteria to be met in separate ways. At least, it was easy for one of us (Susan) to do that—considering each of them a fundamental requirement of “best practice” without ever considering them both at once. That changed when the two of us began talking about victim-offender mediation (VOM) in cases of violent or otherwise traumatic crime. (Authors’ note: In this article, the terms VOM, mediator, and mediation refer exclusively to such serious cases.) (excerpt)
van Garse, Leo. Mediation in a Detention Context: Moralisation or Participation?
This article discusses the author’s development of mediation processes between victim and offenders in Belgium. The focus of the mediation is during the criminal justice process, particularly the punishment phase. In 2005, Belgium passed an act making mediation a part of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and mediation was introduced to address the problem of overpopulated prisons. One proposal was “restorative detention” where civil servants would work in prisons to counsel prison personnel on how to promote a restorative environment. The main goal is reinforcing prisoners to think about the harm they have caused and how they can mend that harm. The final section of the article discusses the author’s findings from employing mediation and restorative justice frameworks in Belgium prisons.
Call, Ed. Healing Instead of Punishing
Ed Call, a member of the Salvation Army involved in ministry in correctional and justice services, describes restorative justice as heart-led and head-led justice. He maintains that the faith community has an important role to play in criminal justice because faith leaders and practitioners are called to see beyond the offense to the offender. This leads to a new crime control belief system oriented toward healing and restoration of the relationships among victim, offender, and community. At the same time, Call acknowledges some of the key challenges facing the restorative justice movement.
Laflin, Maureen E.. The Mediator as Fugu Chef: Preserving Protections Without Poisoning the Process
As the support for mediation in the civil and criminal context continues to expand, the distinction between confidentiality and privilege becomes increasingly critical. For mediation to function effectively, mediation privilege rules must address not only the actual dispute but also the possible use of the mediation communications in subsequent criminal litigation. This article focuses on the interplay between mediated disputes and subsequent criminal litigation. (excerpt)
Borton, Ian M.. Victim Offender Communication in Felony Cases: An Archival Analysis of Ohio's Office of Victim Services Dialogue Program
An analysis of victim-offender dialogue files to understand why only one in four initiated dialogue files complete actual face-to-face dialogue, focusing on offender attributes and relationship between victim and offender.
Rossi, Rachel Alexandra. Meet Me on Death-Row: Post-Sentence Victim-Offender Mediation in Capital Cases
The paper discusses how the restorative justice practice of Victim-Offender Mediation Programs could be modified and implemented in capital cases and posits that it is of direct benefit to victims, offenders, and family members of both parties in terms of emotional healing.
Swanson, Cheryl. Should Victims Have the Right to Meet with Their Offenders?
Although a majority of crime victims may not voluntarily choose to meet with the offenders who harmed them, 25 years of research indicates that victims who choose to participate in such meetings have benefited. Victims' motives for choosing to meet with offenders are to obtain information from the offender, finding closure, concern for the offender, letting the offender see the impact of the crime, sharing feelings of forgiveness with the offenders, hearing apologies from the offender, and deciding whether to support early release. Studies of victim satisfaction with victim-offender mediation are consistently high, with 80-90 percent of victims expressing satisfaction with the process. This satisfaction holds across time, culture, and the seriousness of the offense. This chapter argues that victims are most likely to benefit from meetings/mediation with offenders when the meetings are voluntary, safe, and involve informed consent from both the victim and the offender. Trained facilitators should assess the appropriateness and timeliness of the meetings. Certain types of cases should be excluded, such as domestic violence, where there is clear and compelling evidence that a meeting is not in the best interests of participants. Unless there is a high probability of empowerment and healing for both victim and offender, a meeting should not be held. As long as the goal of expanding victim-offender meetings is to provide victims with more choices to enhance their well-being and healing, then this issue is worthy of future study and action. (abstract courtesy of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service,
Immarigeon, Russ. Prison-Based Victim Offender Reconciliation Programs
Twenty years after the first victim-offender reconciliation meeting, victim-offender meetings are increasingly being held in prisons. This chapter describes victim-offender reconciliation programs at five sites in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. These programs have slightly different objectives than community-based victim-offender mediation programs; they emphasize sharing information and healing rather than restitution. They differ from one another in several ways, including continuity, objectives, and origins. This chapter identifies operational issues and reviews relevant evaluation research. Several recommendations are made to support further prison use of victim-offender meetings.
Hartmann, Arthur and Steudel, Tim and Haas, Marie. The MEREPS-project in Germany.
Our main task in the MEREPS project were: to implement a model project in the prison of Bremen, to evaluate this model project, and to make a survey among the employees of prisons in Germany regarding their attitudes about VOM and RJ. This article gives a short overview of the results that have been achieved so far. (excerpt)
Vazulla, Juan Carlos. The participation of the community representative in mediation involving youth perpetrators
In Brazil, the juvenile justice system includes victim-offender mediation. Now they have added a third mediator into those meetings: one that represents the community that was transgressed against.
Barabas, Tunde and Szego, Dora and Windt, Szandra and Fellegi, Borbála. Somewhere over the rainbow: The MEREPS results in Hungary.
The primary purpose of the study was to assess the ability and willingness of offenders to participate in mediation after sentencing, with special regard to the internal and external factors supporting and hindering this. The initial findings show a significant distinction between young and adult offenders in terms of their willingness to take part in a mediation process. With young convicts mediation should only be used after careful preparation, simply because most of them are not prepared in any way to meet their victims. The younger age group is dominated by violence, which reduces the chances for remorse and reconciliation. They often lack empathy, reject the concept of guilt, and blame the other party of the environment for what happened. By contrast, adult prisoners seem to be more prepared to meet their victims. (excerpt)

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