Victim Offender Mediation Association
Restorative Justice FAQ*
(*Frequently Asked Questions)
Don't find your question answered here? Send it to us for possible future inclusion, and maybe (we can't promise) an immediate answer from a member of VOMA's question answering team.
What is VOMA?
VOMA (Victim Offender Mediation Association) developed out of an informal network of practitioners, researchers, and theorists in victim-offender mediation and restorative justice in the early 1980s. Originally called the U.S. Association for Victim-Offender Mediation, the organization became VOMA in 1997. There are currently 350 VOMA members (individuals) and 30 agency members, in 40 states and 7 countries. We are an international organization.
Since 1990, the number of victim-offender mediation programs around the world has increased eightfold, to more than 1200. The exponential growth in this field – and its influence on criminal justice systems – has created a pressing need for professional support and continuing education for those who put restorative justice into action. For over 18 years, VOMA has provided leadership in promoting and providing best practices, ethical guidelines, and peer support.
What is restorative justice?
Where did the idea of RJ come from?
The idea of bringing together a victim of a crime and the person who committed that crime is based on age-old values of justice, accountability, and restoration. The first “Victim Offender Reconciliation Program” was started in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1976; the first VORP in the United States was started in Elkhart, Indiana in 1978. In 1990, there were approximately 150 such programs; in 2000, there are more than 1200 programs world-wide.
What is VOM?
Victim Offender Mediation is usually a face-to-face meeting, in the presence of a trained mediator, between the victim of a crime and the person who committed that crime. The practice is also called victim-offender dialogue, victim-offender conferencing, victim-offender reconciliation, or restorative justice dialogue. In some practices, the victim and the offender are joined by family and community members or others.
In the meeting, the offender and the victim can talk to each other about what happened, the effects of the crime on their lives, and their feelings about it. They may choose to create a mutually agreeable plan to repair any damages that occurred as a result of the crime.
Through this process, crime victims have an opportunity to get answers to their questions about the crime and the person who committed it. They take an active role in getting their material and emotional needs met. Research indicates that victims who participate in VOM receive more restitution than those who do not and feel safer and less fearful afterwards than those who do not.
Offenders have an opportunity to take responsibility for what they have done. They learn the impact of their actions on others. They take an active role in making things right, for example, through restitution, apology, or community service. Research indicates that offenders who participate in VOM feel they were treated more fairly than those who do not, and have a higher rate of restitution completion than those who do not.
Research has found high levels of participant satisfaction in victim-offender mediation, conferencing, and circles.
There are many things to consider regarding restitution arrangements between victims and offenders. First and foremost, what does the victim need or want. Second, what is the offender able to provide as restitution. It always needs to be fair and doable. Third, what is the expectation of the system that referred the case to the V/O program?
Victims need to know if the system will support a non-monetary restitution agreement. Some systems will only hold the offender responsible for financial restitution in the amount of the loss. If this is the case where you practice, the victim and the offender both need to be made aware of it to avoid disappointment or misunderstanding by either party.
Example: The victim and the offender agreed the offender would pay $100.00 of the $200.00 out of pocket loss and the offender would mow the victim's lawn 5 times during the months of June and July, exact dates to be determined by phone calls between the parties. When this agreement was presented to the court only the $100.00 was noted as restitution. The young offender's parent decided the youth was then not to mow the lawn. The victim was, of course, revictimized and had nothing positive to say about the program or the offender. The offender was confused, and the system washed it's hands of the whole matter. Also, some systems have a cap on how much restitution a young offender can be held responsible to pay. Before you begin meeting with the victim or offender, you better know if the system in your area has imposed a cap. You should also know if they have a paid community service work program that offenders referred to your program might be eligible for.
This could have been avoided if the person writing the agreement would have worded it differently, ex: The victim and the offender agreed the offender would pay $100.00 of the $200.00 out of pocket loss and the offender would work off the balance by mowing the victim's lawn 5 times during the months of June and July, exact dates to be determined by phone calls between the parties. Should the 5 mowings not occur, the remaining $100.00 must be paid by July 30, 2003. See the difference – the wording and the "if, then" clause made all the difference.
Victims could choose to have the offender do any number of personal service tasks, pulling weeds, shoveling snow, mowing lawns, painting fences, doing errands, reading books and making personal verbal reports to them, reading to a shut in friend or relative, to name a few. All personal work service agreements must be supported by the offender's parents, if the offender is a minor. Young offenders are subject to all labor regulations in your area; you should be able to check out what they are in your area via the Internet.
Example: in Minnesota young people under the age of 16 are not allowed to operate a power lawn mower or climb a ladder while performing service work. Doing personal or community service in any care facility for vulnerable populations is usually limited to nonviolent, non-theft related offenders. You will need to check with each facility to learn what their rules are around accepting offenders assigned to service work.
Victims need to be told they can never make a profit from restitution – only their actual out-of-pocket losses can be recovered. Combination restitution, such as money and service work must only total the actual value of the loss. In cases where there cannot be a dollar amount determined, people just have to make good judgment calls on what if enough. Again, it must be fair and doable ad the parties must agree on the restitution. The mediator/facilitator's task is to monitor that both parties are truly in agreement. Often young offenders will agree to anything just to have the session end – that agreement is likely doomed to fail.
Victims who claim huge loss that is unsubstantiated and the amount seems unreasonable to the mediator need to know that the court may throw the agreement out. Documentation of the loss must be provided. This can be estimated of repair or replacement, actual receipts or bills.
On the other hand, there will be victims who decide the offender can't pay, so they don't ask for anything. This is where the preparation really helps victims. They need to know that most offenders who agree to participate in a V/O meeting, do so because they do have a conscience, and they need to do something to get out from under the guilt. If they cannot make restitution of some sort, they will continue to feel guilty, people who feel guilty do not feel good about themselves, they feel "outside," people who feel outside usually do not succeed in having a positive, productive life. Only explain this to victims who profess to feeling they "shouldn't" ask the "poor" offender to make restitution, to encourage them to seek something – what they eventually ask for is up to them -- but they deserve something. This is a bit tricky, that's why I recommend only saying it as a last resort because it could be interpreted as trying to get the victim to take care of the offender. So, if you choose to talk about the offender needing to get rid of his/her guilt be very careful that you have a good take on the victim so what you say isn’t misconstrued!
Insurance subrogation issues
How do you handle a case where the loss is large, and an insurance company has paid the claim? Can the insurance company leverage the victim offender agreement into a civil judgment? This subject was discussed at length on the VOMA discussion listserve and a summary is available here.
Do offenders have access to legal representation during mediation/conferencing?
Both Offenders and their Victims may choose to have legal representation present for the Preparation interviews as well as for the actual mediation/conference. Any costs or fees are the responsibility of the party who retained the attorney. Everyone who attends a mediation or conference must be involved in the preparation phase and attorneys will be designated support people. This means they must agree to follow the same ground rules or guidelines as friends and/or/parents: no direct participation, no interrupting, and only involved in restitution decision making if both victim and offender agree they should be involved.
The whole point of mediation /conferencing is for the parties themselves to have the opportunity to come to whatever outcome would be meaningful to them. It is not about legalities. It is not about power. Involving attorneys would put it more in the system arena rather than the community. In all the years I have been involved in Restorative Justice processes I have only once had attorneys present and at one point the session was dominated by legal arguments. In that case I did ask them all to step out of the circle. They did as they were asked, but the damage was done and most participants were not very satisfied with the process at the end. I felt the same.
I have spoken to many attorneys on the phone because their clients wanted them to "check out" what the process was about and then to determine whether they (the atty.) ought to attend. After learning more about what we do and how we do it all instructed their clients to go ahead and participate without them.
Is there judicial oversight of community-based programmes which involve agreements which form part or all of the sentence?
Yes. However, usually the oversight is indirect, as the Probation Officer is the actual person to whom we report. Of course, P.O.'s are officers of the court. If the Mediation/Conference is held prior to sentencing, the court is furnished with the agreement and it becomes a part of the sentence. On rare occasions the agreement has become almost the only court sanction. However, it is important to remember that any Probation Officer and any Judge can toss out or modify agreements reached through Med./Conf. Processes, and every victim and offender needs to be told that this is the case. The best time to do this is during the preparation phase. A happy note: Because we have met with the court and it's agents to learn what is acceptable and what is not, we have never had a judge throw out any agreement. This underscores the mediator/facilitator's task to make sure all agreements are fair and doable and that all parties voluntarily agree to the terms of each and every agreement.
Re peacemaking circles, how does the community make referrals in practice? (Presumably the offender has already been charged.)
Right, offenders are charged. When they appear before the Judge they are told about the process and asked if they would be interested in participating in the circle process. They must plead "guilty" before they can participate in a circle. If the offender is not a appropriate candidate the offender gets referred back to court where he or she may rescind their guilty plea. The case then begins again and is handled as if the circle part never happened. Because the circle process is so very labor intensive and involves so many people it is important to determine the offender's suitability early. This can only be done by direct contact interviews.
To what extent can restorative processes work with drug users?
It is always tricky to work with drug users. It is certainly worth a try if, and only if, the addicted person has completed treatment. This means a huge delay for the victim(s), but if a person's mind is not clear, they can not really even grasp the harm they have caused and the victim would most likely be re-victimized. This would be true in cases where no crime has been charged, but those around the person who is using drugs wants him or her to make amends for behaviors. Chemical Dependency Intervention by those skilled in that specific field would be better equipped to assist than well intended, dedicated community lay persons.
Are there other RJ practices?
Is VOM used in cases of serious violence?
Is VOM used in cases of sexual abuse?
Where can I get training in RJ?
How do I find a local RJ program?
Do VOM programs screen volunteers? How?
Can RJ principles be applied outside the criminal justice arena?
I’m writing a paper on RJ for school. Where can I find information?
Is there research demonstrating benefits from RJ practices?
I am the director of a very small Restorative Justice program that handles only a few dozen cases a year and operates with only one part-time director. We are currently reaching the final week of our grant from the Attorney General's office. Once we finish this grant our funds will be severely cut, however we have some money that is available to inquire about other funding sources. I am looking to find a more substantial grant that would fund our program for more than a year, however this is proving to be a difficult individual endeavor. Please send me any information that you might have available. [edited inquiry from VOM/RJ program director to VOMA]
[response from VOMA's contract grant writer ]
For local projects, it's usually necessary to look for financial support from places that care about your local area. You need to think about all the relationships your project currently has, such as staff or board members' connections, and build from there. Each board member should be making a personal financial contribution to your project. When you have 100% of your board as givers, it makes it easier to ask other potential givers because you can demonstrate a sincere commitment by the board. Also, look at your board to see what their areas of expertise are. If you see some gaps, add board members who can fill those gaps and who have relationships/connections that will be helpful to your project's fund-raising.
Some of the local victim offender mediation projects I'm familiar with have had some degree of success in raising funds from:
Fund-raising is quite a time-consuming process, based on the personal relationships you can build, and that is something that only you and your board members are in a position to tackle.
If you can identify strong prospects for financial support, then you just take it one step at a time in finding out how to request their grant, in preparing written answers to their questions, and in following up your written documents with additional conversations to ensure they have all the info they need, as well as a chance to get to know you better and build trust.
Best wishes and good luck with your challenging work!
Note: Geraldine Graham is a freelance grant writer with years of experience in fundraising for a variety of social justice organizations and causes. Her work has included major proposals for Restorative Justice, particularly organizations oriented to dialogue practices such as victim offender mediation, conferencing, etc. In 1999 Gerry was contracted to write a grant proposal to a major foundation on behalf of VOMA. As a result, VOMA was awarded 3 year funding to undertake and implement a strategic planning process. In the future VOMA expects to contract with Gerry again in order to seek support from other sources. Gerry will research prospective funding sources as well as create grant proposals.
Engaging Offenders in Restorative Dialogue Processes
Eric Gilman, Restorative Justice Coordinator, Clark County Juvenile Court
The Clark County Juvenile Court has renamed its Victim Offender Mediation Program the Victim Offender Meeting Program. This re-naming reflects a change in both thinking and practice.
Our juvenile court’s commitment to respond restoratively to all victims and offenders has led it to modify the process commonly referred to as victim offender mediation. While the process of mediation has much to commend it to Restorative Justice practitioners, there is a growing national movement (the Uniform Mediation Act) to codify the practice of mediation in such a way that can hinder the restorative intent of encounters between victims and offenders. This essay describes an approach to engaging offenders in a victim/offender encounter that highlights one of the basic issues that distinguish placing the primary focus on a restorative process rather than a process determined by the requirements of mediation. Read the full article.
Engaging Victims in a Restorative Process
Eric Gilman, Restorative Justice Coordinator, Clark County Juvenile Court (WA)
The restorative value to crime victims of any dialogue process is directly related to how the practitioners of that process understand its function. It is the premise of this essay that regardless of the format of restorative dialogue – meetings, mediation, conferencing, or circles - the primary purpose for making contact with victims should never be to suggest or encourage their participation in a dialogue process. Rather, the purpose of the contact should be primarily, even solely, focused on the community pro-actively responding to individuals who have been harmed by crime in ways that meaningfully address their felt needs. This important distinction in purpose - encouraging people to participate in a program versus addressing their felt needs - fundamentally changes both the intent and content of initial victim contacts. Read the full article.
Last modified November 14, 2006. Maintained by Duane Ruth-Heffelbower.
© 2012 Victim Offender Mediation Association