Even in states that offer victim-offender meetings, "there are a thousand bureaucratic road blocks put in the way," said Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship, a national prison ministry.
"The system has a paternalistic view that they know better than the victim, they're trying to protect the victim," he said. "In most cases, the victims have great difficulty getting in to see the offenders."
And while many states allow the meetings only for nonviolent offenses, more are warming to the idea of letting victims of violent crimes visit with inmates, even on death row, said Lisa Rea, a California restorative justice consultant and founder of The Justice and Reconciliation Project.
One reason, she said: More and more victims are demanding the right.
....Currently, victims must request a meeting in writing, and requests are approved or rejected based on the type of crime committed, the inmate's behavior and security level, mental health issues and the reason for the visit. On average, the department receives 10 to 15 such requests a year, and half are approved.
But meetings with condemned inmates are forbidden.
That came as a shock to Whoberry when she was denied after her daughter's killer, Paul Warner Powell, agreed to meet with her. Powell attempted to rape her 16-year-old daughter, Stacie Reed, and then stabbed her when she fought him off in 1999. He waited for her 14-year-old sister to come home and then raped and stabbed her, but she lived.
“I was under the impression I had rights,” she said. “But I keep finding out I don't. The offender has more rights than we do.”
Powell's attorney, Jonathan Sheldon, tried to arrange a meeting, but also was denied. In the end — a day before Powell died by electrocution March 18 — Sheldon arranged to have Whoberry and her family come to his office and talk to Powell for more than two hours over the phone.
For Whoberry, “it brought that monster into being a human being,” she said.
They talked about his newfound faith, his life in prison and how he dealt with what he had done. The family asked questions, and Whoberry said she left with a feeling of peace that had avoided her in the 11 years since her daughter Stacie's murder.
“As a victim and survivor there's things you want to say to them that only you can say to them, and they need to hear it,” Whoberry said. “They need to hear it from you.” The more serious or violent the crime, the more the victims benefit from meeting with the offender, Nolan said. Often, criminals take plea bargains. Even if they go to trial, victims often never really get their questions answered.
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