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Victim involvement needed in conferences

Ground breaking evidence supports victim involvement in Victim-Offender conferences – Rethinking Project

"The positive impact of post – sentence restorative justice conferences on victims as well as offenders, is well supported by international evidence", said Kim Workman, Project Leader, Rethinking Crime and Punishment. "But the benefits for victims are much more substantial than formerly thought. " He was responding in the latest Rethinking newsletter to a recent claim by the Sensible Sentencing Trust that restorative justice does not reduce reoffending.

"The evidence that restorative justice practice contributes to the reduction of reoffending, has been around for some years. What is becoming plainly clear, is that we have underestimated the significant impact of a Victim-Offender Conference on victims.

"Restorative justice conferencing provides something that the conventional criminal justice system doesn't: an opportunity for victim and offender to meet voluntarily, face to face, along with their supporters, to discuss a crime and its impact and make a plan for reparation. People involved in restorative conferences share the positive results they experience: decreased anger, increased empathy and understanding, repair of harm. Our experience so far is that all the victims we have helped, report positive movement toward healing.

The emotional and psychological impact of crime can last far beyond the incident itself, in some cases it affects victims' lives for years. Recent research has shown that restorative justice conferences can mitigate those effects and help victims heal and move forward more quickly.

One researcher, Dr Heather Strang, compared a group who went through a restorative justice process, with a control group who went through the court process. Highlights from that research showed that:

• Vengeance: Almost half of the court assigned victims said they would harm their offenders if they had the chance, compared to only 9 percent of conference participants.

• Safety and fear: Three times as many court-assigned property victims and five times as many violence victims feared that their offenders would re-offend against them, compared to their conference-assigned counterparts.

• Apologies: Eighty six percent of those attending conferences received apologies from their offenders, compared to only 16 percent of those who went to court.

• Conference participants also experienced significant decreases in anger

"This is not about offering forgiveness – it's about addressing the victim's needs to hold the prisoner accountable for their actions. "

Kim Workman Project Leader Rethinking Crime and Punishment


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