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Giving crime victims the right to meet with their offenders: Virginia legislative developments

June 8, 2015

(A second bill, SB 679, would allow judges to refer matters to restorative justice programs that include restorative processes. I’ll write more on that proposal on another occasion.)

Are victims or crime ever barred from meeting with their offenders in state prison? From my experience, the answer to that question is yes. 

Should they be?  Given the great value of restorative justice meetings in enhancing victims satisfaction with the criminal justice system this option should be made available. 

Is “closure” possible after a victim meets his/her offender? Most of us who work closely with victims of violent crime do not use that word. Victims seek answers as this rape victim explained to the reporter in the press article. When victim offender meetings occur often victims are empowered and thus more likely to move on with their lives in a positive way.

In some cases victims of violent crime forgive their offenders. However, that is not the end product sought by restorative justice processes. In addition, these restorative justice meetings provide for direct offender accountability which has great value to crime victims, as well as affecting the future actions of the offender.  

There are many victims of violent crime ready to tell their stories and explain why they support restorative justice. Crime victims are increasingly asking to take part in a restorative justice meeting with their offenders. Should those requests be denied by the justice system when the value of such meetings is documented through evidence-based research and the testimony of crime victims?

A final note: since this blog piece was written HB 913 has been amended. In fact, the amended version that was passed out of the Virginia House of Delegates made significant changes that would restrict the types of visits allowed to take place.  The bill would not apply to cases pertaining to offenders who receive the death penalty. In addition, HB 913, as amended, would not apply to cases of “juvenile victims.” 

These are unfortunate and unnecessary developments. The state of Texas approaches victim-offender meetings in prison to be a victim right, and the criminal offense of the prisoner is unimportant as long as the both parties are adequately prepared by skilled facilitators. As much as possible the doors should be open to any victim of any crime.  

What do you think?


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