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Meeting the murderer: Profile of victim-offender dialogue facilitator

Apr 27, 2012

from the entry on Grits for Breakfast:

See an interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor about a boat builder from Maine who runs a non-profit facilitating victim-offender dialogue (VOD) between violent criminals and their victims or their families, which is an idea derived from "restorative justice" models. 

....Wilson spends months meeting with victims and helping them prepare before engaging in dialogue. He also meets ahead of time with offenders, through which he discovered a pivotal irony of our modern penal system: The disassociation of punishment from the events that cause it and the consequent emotional detachment of prisoners.

The jailed offenders receive no shortened sentences or any kind of credit for their involvement. No dialogue occurs if an offender doesn't fully accept responsibility for the crime. What they do get is an opportunity to think more deeply about what they've done.

Wilson also meets ahead of time with offenders. "When I start out [with an offender], many of them will say, 'I don't even know if I have feelings,' " Wilson says. "Of course they have feelings, but that's how far removed they are from them. Describing their feelings is new to them.

"This is the problem with our system: These guys can do their whole sentence without ever having to think or talk about their crime. We do not insist [that] that person think about what they have done."

That last bit is an important observation. Under a restorative justice model, offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions in more meaningful ways. Under the traditional system, the closest anyone comes to taking responsibility comes during the brief moments of a plea bargain before a judge, after which a prisoner may spend decades locked up without being reminded of their offense.

Read the whole entry.

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