Victim - Offender Conferencing is a process which provides interested victims of crime 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 important assistance and compensation to the victim. With the assistance of a trained volunteer facilitator, the victim is able to let the offender know how the crime affected him or her, to receive answers to the questions they may have, and to be directly involved in developing a restitution plan for the offender to be accountable for the losses they incurred. The offender is able to take direct responsibility for their behavior, to learn the full impact of what they did, and to develop a plan for making amends to the person(s) they violated.
When Are Cases Referred?
In some programs, cases are primarily referred to Victim - Offender Conferencing as a diversion from prosecution, assuming the agreement is successfully completed. In other programs, cases are referred primarily after a formal admission of guilt has been accepted by the court, with the facilitation being a condition of probation, if the victim is interested. Some programs receive case referrals at both the diversion and post-adjudication level. Most cases are referred by official involved in the juvenile justice system, although some programs also receive referrals from the adult criminal justice system. Judges, probation officers, victim advocates, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police, schools or victims can make referrals to Victim - Offender Conferencing programs.
How is it different from other conferencing?
In Victim - Offender Conferencing, the involved parties are not "disputants." One has clearly committed a criminal offense and has admitted doing so. The other has clearly been victimized. Therefore, the issue of guilt or innocence is not a consideration. Nor is there an expectation that crime victims compromise and request less than what they need to address their losses. While many other types of conferencing are largely "settlement driven," Victim - Offender Conferencing is primarily "dialogue driven," with the emphasis upon victim healing, offender accountability and restoration of losses. Most Victim - Offender Conferences, frequently over 95%, do in fact result in a signed restitution agreement. This agreement, however, is secondary to the importance of the initial dialogue between the parties that address emotional and information needs of victims that are central to their healing and to the development of victim empathy in the offender which can lead to less criminal behavior in the future. Research has consistently found the restitution agreement is less important to crime victims than the opportunity to talk directly with the offender about how they felt about the crime.
Are crime victims interested?
Yes, Victim - Offender Conferencing is not appropriate for all crimes. In all cases, it must be presented as a voluntary choice to the victim. With more than 20 years of facilitating many thousands of cases throughout North America, experience has shown that the majority of victims presented with the option of conferencing choose to enter into the process. A recent statewide public opinion poll in Minnesota found that 82% of a random sample of citizens from throughout the state would consider participating in a Victim - Offender Conferencing program if they were the victim of a property crime. Interviews with 280 victims who participated in conferencing programs in four states, found that 91% felt their participation was totally voluntary.
What have we learned from research?
Victims of crime who meet with their offender are far more likely to be satisfied with the justice system response than are similar victims who go through the normal court process without Victim - Offender Conference opportunities.
After meeting the offender, victims are significantly less fearful of being re-victimized.
Offenders who meet their victim(s) are far more likely to successfully complete their restitution obligations and to be directly accountable to the victim for their behavior.
Considerable fewer and less serious crimes are committed by offenders who meet their victim(s).
Is Victim-Offender Conferencing part of the
criminal justice system?
Although many referrals come from courts, police, probation and parole, schools and human services, Victim - Offender Conferencing is a program of the community, based on a nonprofit organization called Restorative Justice of Dodge County, Inc. The organization is made up of trained community volunteers who are interested in helping to resolve the problems of crime which affect victims (fear and anger), offenders (accountability and alienation) and the community as a whole (emotional and financial costs).
Standards of Practice
Within one week of receiving a referral, the Director (Case Manager assigned) will: contact the referral source to confirm all information received; create a file; send out appropriate forms; and assign the case to facilitators. Facilitators will receive packets in a timely fashion.
Two facilitators are assigned to each case; the facilitators decide between themselves who will make the initial contacts, etc; however, pre-conference meetings and conferencing will be done together. Each facilitator will log time spent on the case.
A facilitator will contact the referral source to introduce his/herself and let them know the case is proceeding. This is done upon receiving the case.
A facilitator will contact the victim and offender within one week of sending the introductory letters to set up a pre-conference meeting if the victim/offender is willing. These can be done simultaneously.
If no other pre-conference meetings are necessary and the victim and offender are willing and appropriate for a conference, the facilitator will finalize arrangements within one week including scheduling a meeting space, advising the Director of the conference arrangements, any special needs of the parties, and communicating the information to the parties. The conference should take place within two weeks of the final pre-conference with the offender.
The facilitators will write out any agreements that are reached by the parties and ask for signatures. If there are copying facilities available, all parties should receive a copy of the agreement. If not, then the agreement is included in the case file and the Director (case manager) will copy and send out agreements to all parties, as directed by the facilitator.
The victim, offender, and facilitators are asked to complete a questionnaire following the conference (this is voluntary). If no conference is held, on the facilitators fill out a questionnaire.
A facilitator sends/delivers to the office: case file(s), parties’ agreement(s), questionnaires, completed log sheets, etc. The entire contents of the case file including the case file itself are returned to the office.
The Director (case manager) sends a closure letter to the referral source, and copies of all agreements to all parties, within two weeks of closing the case.
One victim wrote, "If it had not been for this program, I would still be holding onto my anger. Our town is a small place and we will run into these youngsters again, and I don't want to harbor bad feelings toward anyone. This program works. It's necessary to have each side face-to-face and to be able to air feelings in a safe environment."
Parent questionnaire, dated April 27, 2005, "I wish I would have know more about this program and would be very interested in finding out more about this program in the future."
Words from another victim, "Keep up the good work. I am very thankful for the two good citizens in Mayville who freely give many hours to this program and all the other support that comes from the county."
One of our facilitators shared their thoughts: Having listened to a father declare, "You know I love you son.", in the midst of my first Victim-Offender Conference, I am unreservedly sold on the Restorative Justice process. There is little doubt in my mind that those words probably had not been spoken in such a public manner before.
Fourteen year old offender, taken from a questionnaire dated April 27th, "Thanks for giving me a second chance."
The young man who came here this evening and met with us was very courageous. It was good for us to hear that he is sorry for what he did and that he is changing the people he is friends with. As victims, my wife and I were glad we had a chance to meet and talk face-to-face with this person.
Fifteen year old offender, "I think that this program is very helpful. The impacts of knowing how other people feel is a good experience of knowing how wrong it was."