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Restorative Justice - An Example Of A Widespread Restorative Justice Program

offender victim mediation dialogue

Victim-offender mediation is a process that provides interested victims of (primarily) property crimes the opportunity to meet the offender, in a safe and structured setting, with the goal of holding the offender directly accountable for their behavior while providing importance assistance and compensation to the victim (Umbreit, 1995b). With the assistance of a trained mediator, the victim can tell the offender how the crime affected them, receive answers to questions they may have, and be directly involved in developing a restitution plan holding the offender accountable for the losses incurred. The offender is able to take direct responsibility for his or her behavior, learn the full impact of what they did, and develop a plan for making amends to the person(s) they violated. Some victim-offender mediation programs are called "victim-offender meetings" or "victim-offender conferences."

While many other types of mediation are largely "settlement driven," victim-offender mediation is primarily "dialogue driven," with the emphasis upon victim healing, offender accountability, and restoration of losses. Contrary to other applications of mediation in which the mediator would first meet the parties during the joint mediation session, in victim-offender mediation a very different process is used based upon a humanistic model of mediation (Umbreit, 1997). This model involves reframing the goal of mediation from settlement to facilitating dialogue and mutual aid; scheduling separate premediation sessions with each party; connecting with the parties but building rapport and trust, while not taking sides; identifying the strengths of each party; using a nondirective style of mediation that creates a safe space for dialogue and accessing the strengths of participants; and recognizing and using the power of silence.

Most victim-offender mediation sessions do in fact result in a signed restitution agreement. This agreement, however, is secondary to the importance of the initial dialogue between the parties; such a dialogue addresses the emotional and informational needs of victims that are central to their healing and to development of victim empathy in the offender, which can reduce future criminal behavior.

Since 1975 when the first victim-offender mediation program was established in Kitchener, Ontario, many criminal justice officials have been quite skeptical about victim interest in meeting the offender. Victim-offender mediation is clearly not appropriate for all crime victims or offenders; practitioners are trained to present it as a voluntary choice for the victim and the offender. With more than twenty years of mediating many thousands of cases throughout North America and Europe, experience has shown that the majority of victims presented with the option of mediation choose to enter the process.

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