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Victims must make the decisions to meet offenders

"Victims must make the decisions to meet offenders" Kim Workman, Prison Fellowship

"Any victim who considers they are being pressured to take part in a restorative justice conference, or pressured not to take part, should complain to the Ministry of Justice, or in the case of conferences held in prison, to the Department of Corrections", said Kim Workman, National Director, and Prison Fellowship. He was responding to Sensible Sentencing Trusts view that some families felt under pressure to meet with, and forgive killers.

"Prison Fellowship has been facilitating in-prison restorative justice conferences since 2003, and follow Ministry of Justice guidelines carefully. Only about a third of all requests result in a conference. In two cases out of three, either the victim or the offender don't wish to take part."

"Misleading publicity about victim offender conferences, including groundless allegations that victims might be bullied into offering forgiveness, demonstrates a poor understanding of the process", said Mr Workman. "Our experience is that victims want to meet with offenders for one or more reasons:

To tell the offender to their face, about the damage caused to the victim and the victim's family, so they can hold the offender fully accountable.

To hear first hand from the offender, the circumstances which led to them commit the offence. That helps them to better understand what happened.

Victims and offenders may want to discuss offender reparation or other actions to repair the harm.

Victims may want to 'check out' the offender to establish whether imprisonment or punishment has made a difference in the offender's life, and that the offender is less likely to offend.

Victims want to find out what the offender will do to 'put things right' to make amends in some way.

Victims want assurance that the offender is truly sorry for what they have done.

"Victims are at different stages of a healing journey" said Mr Workman. " Few go into a conference with the intention of offering forgiveness. But that is always something within their control. If it does happen, then it is usually at the end of the healing journey rarely is it offered at the beginning.
The Sentencing Act 2002, does not provide, as Garth McVicar wrongly suggests, a "sentence discount if the offender takes part in a restorative justice conference." The Court can take into account as a mitigating factor, the conduct of the victim, and any remorse shown by the offender. However, there are many cases where the conduct and attitude of either the victim or the offender has resulted in an increased sentence.
"It is wrong to assume that victims want offenders to get the maximum punishment possible. That is not always the case and victim's rights groups and service providers have no right to discourage victims from taking part in a restorative justice conference, because it might lessen the sentence. Again, that is a choice that should be made by the victim, and without coercion."

Readers who want to know more, should go to: http://www.pfnz.org.nz/Site%20PDF/Victim%20Offender%20Conferences.pdf


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