Listening to crime victims: North Carolina restorative justice conference
by Lisa Rea
When crime victims speak about the effect violent crime has had on their lives you have to listen. On June 9th I moderated a crime victims roundtable during the 3rd Annual Restorative Justice Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina coordinated this year by Campbell University Law School. The roundtable called "Listening to Crime Victims: Their Journeys Toward Healing" was sponsored by the Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing. The four victims of violence who told their stories were Bill Pelke, chair, Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing (Alaska), Stephen Watt, Stephen Watt Ministries (Wyoming) , Bess Klassen-Landis, musician and teacher (Vermont), and Kim Book, executive director, Victims Voices Heard (Delaware). No matter how many crime victims panels I have moderated the stories are always riveting and often what I hear the victims say is new even when I am familiar with the stories. I learn something new as the victims move along in their lives---their own personal journeys.
Victim impact statements: Some concerns about current practice and proposed changes
Currently victims have the right to submit a VIS in a variety of ways, though it is usually in writing, and to request the opportunity to present the statement in open court. The judge has the discretion to deny this request and to edit the statement if there are concerns about its length or content. Under the new proposal, victims will have the right to use their own words in the VIS and “to address the offender so that the offender may better perceive the impact of the offence on the victim”. For serious offences (s.29 of the Victims Rights Act), victims will have an automatic right to present their VIS in court, though the judge retains the right to manage the process.
A scary, but exciting prospect
Recently, I was in the Bahamas to conduct a training seminar on the Sycamore Tree Project® for Prison Fellowship Bahamas. A diverse group of people including prison officers, volunteers, and police officers gathered to learn about this in-prison restorative justice programme. Through the day and half of training two emotions stood out: fear and excitement.
For many, especially the prison officers, the idea of bringing victims into prison to meet face-to-face with prisoners (but not their own offenders) was novel and a bit overwhelming. Although the programme has a positive track record in close to twenty countries, the training participants still had serious concerns about how this would work. For one thing, how do you handle victim anger? Why would victims want to go into prison? Isn’t this just setting up an explosive situation?
Sycamore Tree: Week 3
A week with huge expectations: we have three visitors coming with us. Ann (not her real name) a young lady, victim of a robbery, whose car was violently attacked while she was in it and whose bags were stolen and Ray and Vi, whose son Christopher was murdered by a gang of violent youths high on alcohol and drugs. Ann and Ray and Vi are effectively surrogate victims for the men - a taster, in a group, of the experience of a victim – offender conference or mediation.
Victim impact programming in corrections: A team approach to reducing recidivism
from the note by Verna Wyatt in The Wall:
At first glance, it might seem counter-intuitive for victim advocates to work with inmates. However, the truth is, victim advocates and corrections professionals are not adversaries. We actually share a common goal: “no more victims.” Conducting Victim Impact classes for the incarcerated is a team approach to preventing victimization. There have been several studies looking at the effectiveness of victim impact programs across the country. A Iowa Department of Correction report, using two evidence-based studies, concluded victim impact is a contributing factor in reducing recidivism.
[You Have the Power (YHTP)] developed our own Victim Impact Curriculum based on our experience as victim advocates. We’ve learned from our class participants that the majority of offenders never think about their victim as a human being. Many never even think about their victim at all. One of our offender participants told us, “I’ve been incarcerated for over twenty years, and I never once thought about my victim until this class.”
No restorative justice for those bereaved by Potters Bar
The farcical nature of the criminal proceedings against the companies so long after the [train crash in which two women were killed] is the consequence of the failure of accountability at the time it happened. Jarvis and its chairman, Steven Norris, made spurious claims of sabotage and there was a delay of nearly two years before liability was admitted by Network Rail and Jarvis.
Even then the admission was done with bad grace. The government initially delayed making any decision on whether to have a public inquiry until December 2005. The following year Lord Justice Moses refused to overturn this decision after the bereaved families challenged it in court.
However, he said that any new evidence should lead to a reconsideration by the government and he stressed the importance of restorative justice: "They (the bereaved) do seek some identification; faces, names, the real people whose anonymity cannot be hidden behind the facade of monolithic organisations." And he continued: "If those individuals, whose actions or omissions might have saved life or contributed to death, fear that they may one day have to come face to face with those who suffer as a result of that they have done or failed to do, life may be protected in the future."
So how do you know that an offender means it when they say sorry?
from Dave Walker's blog entry:
I attended a session in a well known, inner city prison full of local, inner city, young men with all the airs and graces of inner city life, drugs, violence and gang culture. These things don’t cease upon sentencing – if anything they can sometimes be more intense on a prison wing than on the street. Status can be everything on the wing and a new pair of trainers will do wonders for you on the respect scale.
To see a young man in an environment like this full of masculine front stand up to read a letter he has written to the parents of another young man he had beaten up in a gang related incident. To see this man physically shaking and weeping in front of the room I have described. To see some of the other men welling up at what they are hearing. To hear the regret that the realisation of their actions has induced: a realisation not at all prompted by the court process. To witness all this is the only way to have that big question answered. This is what I witnessed and I have absolutely no doubt as to their sincerity.
Victim Support chief addresses restorative justice conference
from the organization's website:
Victim Support describes itself as "the independent charity for victims and witnesses of crime in England and Wales. We were set up 35 years ago and have grown to become the oldest and largest victims' organisation in the world. Every year, we contact over 1.5 million people after a crime to offer our help."
Speaking at the Restorative Justice Approaches conference on Thursday 27 January, Javed [Khan] said: “We have for many years supported restorative justice projects up and down the country. We know that one of the greatest benefits of restorative justice is to victims of crime and that satisfaction rates among victims are particularly high when it is victim led.”
Welcoming the government’s commitments to restorative justice he added: “I want to make sure that these are more than just warm words and that restorative justice becomes a right for every victim who wants it.”
Awesome things happen when people come together
Recently, I met with representatives from Prison Fellowship Italy (PF Italy) visiting the Washington, DC area. In early 2010, a colleague and I had visited Italy to train members of the new organisation in the Sycamore Tree Project® so I was really looking forward to hearing about their experiences and the lessons learned. I wasn’t prepared for the awe inspiring stories that they told.
The Sycamore Tree Project® is an in-prison restorative justice programme bringing together unrelated victims and prisoners for a series of six to eight sessions. Through the sessions, participants explore the impact of crime, taking responsibility, confession, repentance, making amends, forgiveness and reconciliation. PF Italy worked quickly to implement this programme in Italian prisons but faced a few obstacles. In the end, the prison administration allowed them to start but with the proviso that the first group consist of prisoners who were mafia members convicted of committing murder and survivors of victims of such mafia activity. I remember receiving that news and thinking, “That’s not where I would want to start.”
Interview with Debbie, a rape victim of Robert Power
from the interview by Ines Aubert:
Ines Aubert was a pen pal of Robert Powers who had been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl. She discovered over time that Robert had changed profoundly and that he wanted, among other things, to extend an apology to any of his victims who wished to receive that.
This took on some urgency at the end of 2010 as Robert neared the end of his life (he died of cancer on December 3). Ines contacted restorative justice consultant and RJOnline Correspondent Lisa Rea for assistance, but they were unable to find a way to reach out to Robert's victims. Lisa wrote about this in an earlier blog entry on RJOB.
Commenting on an article about Robert's death in a Florida newspaper, Ines wrote that he had wanted to apologize before his death but had been unable. Another reader -- one of Robert's victims -- replied to Ines that she had forgiven Robert. The two were able to connect, and Ines recently interviewed Debbie about her experience as a victim and the reasons for her forgiveness. The following is a short excerpt of an answer Debbie gave to Ines' question about how she felt when she learned that Robert had a pen pal.