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Restorative justice focuses on the victim

March 14, 2012

One offender said, “The worst thing about the meeting was having to look at and face the man I stole the bike from, but the best part was my friends and I got to help decide how to make it up to him. After we gave his bike back we saved money and bought a bike to donate to kids.”

Some victims of felony crimes such as burglary, assault or homicide, want to meet with their offenders face-to-face to say how the crime has affected them and their loved ones and to ask questions only the offender can answer. After sentencing, the Montana Department of Corrections offers an opportunity for victim-offender dialogue in a safe setting after intensive preparation by trained facilitators. Meetings can only be initiated by the victim and are voluntary for both sides. While not receiving any tangible benefits from the process, offenders may want an opportunity to apologize as a way to make amends.

A woman who spent years fearing the man who assaulted her, learned when she met him face-to-face, that he was an old man dying of cancer. “Once I knew he would not come back to rape me again, I was able to begin the healing process.”

Victims who don’t want to meet directly with their offender can volunteer to speak as part of a victim impact panel (VIP) at one of the boot camps or prerelease centers. VIPs give victims an opportunity to tell their stories, meet other victims with similar experiences and hold offenders accountable for their crimes. Many offenders report that the VIP was the most important factor in their decision to take responsibility for their crimes, participate in treatment and change their lives.

One offender wrote: “The biggest lesson you have taught me is that my victims will be affected for the rest of their lives because of my actions but it’s not too late to change what I do and to not hurt anyone ever again.”

Read the whole column.


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