Almost all of us have had something of value taken by another person or experienced something hurtful done by a friend or colleague. We are left with feelings of vulnerability, loss of relationship, and often anger.
If a person goes through the criminal justice system when something is stolen or damaged, there is usually no chance to face the offender. So those painful feelings stay around and hurt again when the incident is remembered.
Restorative Justice is a different approach to dealing with misdemeanors, especially with juvenile offenders. Victim-Offender Mediation and Victim-Offender Reconciliation are names for programs that bring victims and offenders face-to-face with the help of trained mediators. Two Mediators were recently trained and have mediated such situations in Adams County.
The goals of Restorative Justice are: 1) to address the needs of the victim, 2) to empower victims, offenders, and communities to heal from the effects of crime, 3) to curb recidivism (repeated offenses), and 4) to provide a more effective alternative to more punishment and more prisons.
In Victim-Offender Mediation the victim has the opportunity to express the changes in daily routine and feelings of anger and insecurity because of the incident to the person who most needs to hear it, the offender. This personalizes the crime and presents a human face with real aftereffects to the offender, who may not have understood how someone was being hurt by the activity.
The offender has the opportunity to hear and understand the direct consequences of actions taken, to be in the situation from the view of the victim. Offenders face the persons who were victimized and take meaningful responsibility for their behavior and its effects.
The victim can bring an account of the loss to the meeting. The victim and offender discuss the loss and voluntarily come to an agreement on a fair restitution for the loss that can be completed by the offender. The restitution can be in the form of payment to the victim, work for the victim, community service, a combination of these, or an alternative activity that creates a sense of justice between the victim and offender.
Victim-Offender Mediation Programs have been used to mediate fair restitution between crime victims and offenders for over 20 years. There are now thousands of such programs around the world. Statistics show that about 65% of the cases referred to Victim-Offender Mediation result in face-to-face meetings. In over 95% of these cases the victim and offender come to a written restitution agreement. The restitution agreements are fulfilled in over 90% of the cases within a year. This compares to the 20-30% actual rate of payment of court-ordered restitution which is typical nationally.
Why would there be this difference in restitution compliance? It seems that when the offender faces the victim and participates in developing the restitution obligation, there is ownership of the responsibility of the actions and restitution is more likely to be completed. Even more exciting is the fact that the offenders who have been involved in mediation tend to commit fewer and less serious offenses than similar offenders who go through the traditional criminal justice system.
If you would like more information about Mediation or Victim-Offender Mediation please contact Mediation Services of Adams County at 717-334-7312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Kay Turner is a teacher who is also a board member and volunteer mediator and trainer for Mediation Services of Adams County.