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Book Review: The Handbook of Victim Offender Mediation: An Essential

This book describes the uses of vicitm-offender mediation in the criminal justice system.
Mark S Umbreit. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.  425 pages.  ISBN 0-7879-5491-8 (hardback).  US $ 53.95

Reviewed by Martin Wright , Mediation UK.

The author has experience as a practitioner, trainer and researcher, and the Handbook reflects this breadth.  After an outline of the restorative justice concept, Umbreit places it in the context of conventional criminal justice and of social conditions generally.  The practical sections of the book include checklists of points to consider when setting up and running a victim/offender mediation service, and ‘do’s and don’ts’ which make the reader feel that the author speaks from hands-on experience.  Some material has appeared before, but it is useful to have it in one volume.

His model is described as ‘victim-sensitive mediation and dialogue with offenders’, and emphasizes that the process, the dialogue, is at least as important as any agreement that the victim and offender may reach.  Almost every sentence in these chapters makes a point which managers of mediation services and trainers of mediators would do well to include in their planning or their training programmes.  They include for example tips on 

  • contacting participants

  • preparing them for a meeting

  • confidentiality

  • arranging the room for a mediation session

  • de-briefing and follow-up.

There is a separate chapter on multi-cultural sensitivity.  Much of this relates to work with juveniles, and with relatively minor offences, but Umbreit points out that the process is at least as valuable in cases of severe violence, and is being increasingly requested even by relatives of homicide victims.  

A national survey of V/OM in the USA gives facts and figures, but also reviews critically the diverse procedures used in the 289 programmes.  Research findings from 40 studies are summarized, giving data which may be useful in drawing up funding proposals.  More detailed studies are reported from the USA, Canada and England.  The book focuses on V/OM, but recommends the development of other models such as conferencing. 

The main text concludes with the opportunities and threats facing restorative justice. There are six useful appendices, including ‘promising practices and innovations’ which Umbreit has culled from various V/OM services, and a good index. 


December 2001


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