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Guidelines for Victim-Sensitive Victim-Offender Mediation: Restorative Justice Through Dialogue (2000)

The full text of the guidelines are available in pdf format.

Executive Summary

The process of allowing interested crime victims to meet offenders in the presence of trained mediators now occurs in nearly 300 communities in the United States and more than 700 communities in Europe. When victim-offender mediation originated in Canada in 1974 and in the United States in 1978, there were only a handful of programs. With the growing interest in restorative justice and the rapid expansion of victim-offender mediation programs, it is important to gain a clear understanding of how the field is developing and becoming highly responsive and sensitive to the needs of crime victims. Every effort must be made to ensure that victims are not used simply as tools for offender rehabilitation, as they are in the dominant offender-driven juvenile and criminal justice systems. At the same time, the needs of offenders must also be considered.

This monograph presents specific criteria and recommendations to enhance the overall quality of victim-offender mediation programs and promote far more victim-sensitive practices in the field. The material presented is grounded in a yearlong assessment of the most current practices in the field, based on a nationwide survey. The material focuses on the practice of victim-offender mediation and dialogue regarding property crimes and minor assaults, the kinds of offenses typically addressed through mediation. A small but growing number of victims of severe violence are requesting to meet with their offenders. This is, however, an intensive and lengthy process that requires advanced training for the mediator. Fully addressing the multitude of issues related to working with severely violent victimizations such as sexual assault, attempted homicide, or murder is beyond the scope of this monograph.

The growing interest in victim-offender mediation arises from its capability to facilitate a real and understandable sense of justice for those most directly affected by crime: victims, victimized communities, and offenders. Victim-offender mediation breathes life into the emerging concept of restorative justice by asking, who was harmed, how can the harm be addressed, and who is held accountable for what happened. It seeks more balanced and effective juvenile and criminal justice systems that recognize the need to involve and serve victims and victimized communities. At the same time, it seeks to hold offenders more directly accountable to those they have harmed without overreliance upon costly incarceration.

Along with identifying specific recommendations for program development, the monograph sets forth guidelines for victim-sensitive victim-offender mediation. The guidelines address victim safety, screening of cases, the victim’s and offender’s choices, the mediator’s obligations and responsibilities, victim and offender support, the use of victim-sensitive language, and training for mediators in victim sensitivity.

I. Victim-Offender Mediation: A National Perspective

An increasing number of crime victims are choosing to meet face-to-face with the persons who victimized them. They are able to let the offenders know how the crime affected their lives, to receive answers to many lingering questions, and to be directly involved in holding offenders accountable for the harm they caused. Victim-offender mediation is recognized as a viable alternative to more traditional retributive response for serving victims’ needs by probation, prosecuting attorneys, courts, correctional facilities, and communities. As the field of victim-offender mediation has grown extensively over the past 25 years, it has become increasingly important to conduct the process in a highly victim-sensitive manner while considering the needs of offenders.

Before addressing the underlying principles and guidelines of victim-offender mediation, a description of the mediation process follows.

What Is It?

Victim-offender mediation (VOM) is a process that provides interested victims (primarily those of property crimes and minor assaults) the opportunity to meet their offenders in a safe and structured setting. The goal is to hold offenders directly accountable while providing important support and assistance to victims. With the assistance of trained mediators, the victims are able to let the offenders know how the crime affected them, receive answers to their questions, and be directly involved in developing a restitution plan that holds the offenders financially accountable for the losses they caused. The offenders are directly responsible for their behavior and therefore must learn the full impact of what they did and develop a plan for making amends, to the degree possible, to the persons they violated. Offenders’ failure to complete the restitution agreement results in further court-imposed consequences. Some VOM programs are called “victim-offender meetings,” “victimoffender reconciliation,” or “victimoffender conferences.”

Victim-offender mediation is one of the clearest expressions of restorative justice, a movement that is receiving a great deal of attention throughout North America and Europe. Current juvenile and criminal justice systems are primarily offender-driven, with a retributive “trail ’em, nail ’em, and jail ’em” perspective that views crime as an offense against the State and offers little help to crime victims.

Restorative justice, however, provides a very different framework for understanding and responding to crime and victimization. Moving beyond the offender-driven focus, restorative justice identifies three clients: individual victims, victimized communities, and offenders. Crime is understood primarily as an offense against people within communities, as opposed to the more abstract legal definition of crime as a violation against the State. Those most directly affected by crime are allowed to play an active role in restoring peace between individuals and within communities. Restoration of the emotional and material losses resulting from crime is far more important than imposing ever-increasing levels of costly punishment on the offender. The debt owed by offenders is concrete. Rather than passively “taking their punishment,” offenders are encouraged to activelyrestore losses, to the degree possible, to victims and communities. The use of dialogue and negotiation among victims, victimized communities, and offenders is emphasized. In truth, the essence of what is being called restorative justice is deeply rooted in the traditional practices of many indigenous people throughout the world, such as American Indians, Pacific Islanders, the Maori in New Zealand, and First Nation people in Canada.

When Are Cases Referred?

In some programs, cases are primarily referred to victim-offender mediation as a diversion from prosecution, assuming the mediation 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 mediation being a condition of probation (if the victim is interested). Some programs receive case referrals at both the diversion and post-adjudication levels. Most cases are referred by officials 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, or police can make referrals to VOM programs.

The national survey of VOM programs that was conducted as part of this project found that, of the 116 programs that were interviewed (out of a total of 289 identified), 34 percent indicated that their primary referral was at a diversion level; 28 percent, at a post-adjudication but predisposition level; and 28 percent, at a post-disposition level of referral.

The full text of the guidelines are available in pdf format.


Jean Greenwood

Jean Greenwood, M. Div., is a researcher, writer, trainer and speaker in the field of victim offender mediation and restorative justice. Jean has trained mediators across the nation and consulted with programs in Sweden and the United Kingdom. MORE >


Mark S. Umbreit

Dr. Mark Umbreit is a Professor and founding Director of the Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota, School of Social Work. He is an internationally recognized practitioner and scholar with more than 40 years of experience as a mediator, peacemaker, trainer, teacher, and researcher. His… MORE >

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