This is something victims' groups have stressed for decades. The justice system fails to give victims and their families a voice, because the system is entirely focused on the offender.

And this is something Suman and Manjit Virk know intimately. The parents of Reena Virk, who was murdered by Kelly Ellard and Warren Glowatski in 1997, spent more than a decade following the trials of Ellard. And it was Ellard, rather than the Virks, who was the focus of the justice system's attention.

But that's only half of the story. The other half involves Glowatski, who was convicted in 1999 and last month received full parole. Yet in contrast to other cases involving high-profile murderers, there were no angry protests, no photographs of anguished parents condemning the system for releasing their daughter's killer.

There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the strength of the Virks. But there is more: Before Glowatski's receiving parole, and at his request, the Fraser Region Community Justice Initiatives Association arranged a meeting between Glowatski and the Virks.

In Heartspeak Productions' The Reena Virk Story, Manjit recalls that this was "the hardest thing" for them, but that they went ahead with the meeting. During the meeting they were able to communicate to Glowatski what he did to them, but also to experience Glowatski's remorse and to accept his apology. Largely as a result of this meeting, they forgave him

The Virks therefore experienced two kinds of justice: First, the conventional justice system, which focuses on offenders and punishing wrongdoers for their transgressions. And second, the Virks experienced restorative justice (RJ), which focuses on giving victims and their families a voice, on ensuring that offenders take responsibility for their actions and on attempting to heal the harm that has been done by crime.

... it's curious that RJ hasn't gone mainstream, since it aims to do exactly what politicians and others claim they want from the justice system. Rarely a day goes by that we don't hear politicians stressing the importance of meeting victims' needs or of ensuring offenders take responsibility, yet the system, focused as it is on punishment, has never been very good at doing either. Restorative justice, on the other hand, aims to make this rhetoric a reality.

...Since the biggest difference between RJ and conventional justice is the former's emphasis on victims, let us consider victims first. The U.K. Restorative Justice Consortium, which has analyzed many studies of RJ and produced a series of reports, notes that well over half of victims wish to participate in RJC, and 85 per cent of those who participate are satisfied with their experience. Indeed, of 152 people interviewed, only six expressed dissatisfaction with face-to-face conferencing.

Not surprisingly, these levels of satisfaction are far higher than those of people who experience only the conventional justice system. But the really dramatic results come from the research of Caroline Angel, a nurse-criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Angel discovered that victims who participated in face-to-face conferencing experienced significantly lower levels of post traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms such as fear, anger, anxiety, irritability and obsession with the crime than controls did. And women were particularly likely to benefit from lower levels of PTS symptoms.

This reduction in PTS symptoms is particularly important, given that, if untreated, such symptoms can lead to both psychological and physical problems.

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