Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM) serves as an impactful alternative within the restorative justice paradigm, offering a space where victims and offenders can directly interact to discuss the harm caused and agree on suitable restorative actions. By facilitating dialogue rather than relying solely on punitive measures, VOM works towards community restoration and personal rehabilitation. This article will explore the history, operational process, and intellectual contributions shaping VOM, while delving into a pertinent case study that reflects its real-world applicability.
VOM originated in the early 1970s in Ontario, Canada, and was later introduced in the United States. It initially focused on juvenile cases but has since extended its scope to include adult offenses (Umbreit, 1995).
Over the years, VOM has been incorporated into various legislation and policy, including the Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) model which is federally recommended for juvenile justice systems (Van Ness & Strong, 2015).
Key Tenets and Thought Leaders
One of the guiding principles of VOM is the informed consent from both parties, ensuring voluntary and conscious participation (Zehr, 2015).
Often described as the ‘grandfather of restorative justice,’ Zehr’s work underscores the importance of dialogue and community involvement in VOM (Zehr, 1990).
A leading authority in VOM, Umbreit’s research emphasizes the psychological benefits for the victim and promotes the model’s scalability (Umbreit, 1994).
The Mediation Process
Trained mediators engage with both the victim and the offender individually to outline the structure and expectations of the mediation process (Umbreit, Coates & Vos, 2002).
A facilitated dialogue takes place where the victim has the opportunity to express the impact of the crime, and the offender listens and responds. A mutually agreed-upon action plan is then formulated (Zehr, 2015).
The agreed-upon reparative actions are executed, with the mediator and community often assuming a supervisory role (Umbreit, 2001).
Case Study: The Robbery Reconsidered
In a small Midwestern town, VOM was employed in a case involving a robbery. The offender, a juvenile, and the victim, a small business owner, agreed to engage in mediation. Through the dialogue, the offender came to understand the deep emotional distress inflicted upon the victim. They agreed that the young man would work part-time in the victim’s store to compensate for the financial loss and gain a work ethic. Subsequent evaluations showed a decrease in the offender’s recidivism rate and increased victim satisfaction with the justice process.
The digital age has brought the possibility of virtual mediation. While promising, the lack of physical presence can be a disadvantage, affecting the emotional depth and sincerity of the process (Dhami, 2017).
Critics like Fania Davis argue for an intersectional approach, acknowledging the role of systemic inequalities like race and gender in shaping the effectiveness and fairness of VOM (Davis, 2019).
Conclusion and Academic Insight
Victim-Offender Mediation, at its core, reframes the narrative of justice from one of retribution to one of constructive, interpersonal resolution. However, as critical scholars like Davis (2019) and Dhami (2017) note, we must not overlook the evolving complexities of digital adaptation and systemic bias in our evaluation of VOM’s effectiveness. The academic discourse around VOM must continually scrutinize and adapt the practice to ensure it does not inadvertently perpetuate inequalities. It is not just an alternative form of dispute resolution; it stands as a significant social experiment in reimagining justice as an intrinsically relational, rather than adversarial, pursuit.
- Umbreit, M. S. (1995). Mediating Interpersonal Conflicts: A Pathway to Peace. CPI Publishing.
- Van Ness, D. W., & Strong, K. H. (2015). Restoring Justice: An Introduction to Restorative Justice. Routledge.
- Zehr, H. (2015). The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Good Books.
- Umbreit, M. S. (1994). Victim Meets Offender: The Impact of Restorative Justice and Mediation. Criminal Justice Press.
- Umbreit, M. S., Coates, R. B., & Vos, B. (2002). The Impact of Restorative Justice Conferencing: A Review of 63 Empirical Studies in 5 Countries. Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking, University of Minnesota.
- Dhami, M. K. (2017). Virtual restorative justice: A skeptic’s view. Journal of Community Safety and Well-Being, 5(2), 44-49.
- Davis, F. E. (2019). The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation. Good Books.
- Zehr, H. (1990). Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Herald Press.