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Questions for Restorative Justice Practitioners to Consider When Creating and Implementing a Victim-centered and Victim-balanced Program
Susan Russell, Victim Access Project Coordinator, Vermont Victim Services 2000

Posted 2000-08-12

The Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services (CCVS) has worked closely with correctional programs in its state to develop restorative justice policies and practices that are victim-sensitive. Susan Russell of the CCVS developed a series of questions that agencies can ask to "provide victims with the greatest opportunity for justice, based upon the six core rights of victims1:

  1. Safety (a sense of safety for victims).
  2. Information/notification (answers to questions).
  3. Choice (the choice to participate or not participate).
  4. Testimony (a chance to testify to their truth).
  5. Validation (respect for and acknowledgment of the victim’s experiences).
  6. Restitution (the full and prompt payment of restitution).

Safety

  • Does your program consider the safety of victims and their families as its highest priority?
  • Has your program worked with victims and victim service providers to ascertain the kinds of safety measures you can facilitate to ensure victim safety?
  • What safety measures does your program have in place to ensure the victim’s safety before, during and after his/her participation in the process?
  • Are victims asked if they feel safe and what (if anything) would make them feel safer?
  • Has your program considered safety measures for staff who are conducting victim-related or restorative justice processes, or who are in the office?
  • In some cases, does your program contact allied professionals to get them involved in providing safety?
  • What preventive strategies does your program suggest to victims to increase their safety? (NOTE: In cases involving domestic violence or stalking, there is no way that anyone can ensure safety.)

 

  • In your program, who has responsibility for creating, implementing, reviewing, evaluating and improving your victim-related safety measures?
  • Does your program have a system for putting safety plans in place for victims with disabilities before an emergency arises? Does this person work with victims and victim service providers?
  • How does your program present itself to elderly victims?
    • Is there effort given to understanding such issues as dementia, isolation or other aging issues that may exacerbate their experience, leaving them feeling more vulnerable than before?
    • What assurances are given to them about protection if they are to meet with their offender?
  • What safety procedures do you follow when both victims and their offenders are present in the same venue?
  • What steps are taken when safety measures are violated during any restorative justice process?
  • How do you screen out inappropriate cases, i.e, domestic violence or sexual assault cases?
  • If the screening is done by a committee, what type of training do its members receive?
    • If cases are screened by the court, are there additional screening processes?
  • Who will enforce the restorative justice agreement, or violations thereof, post-process?

 

  • What are your program’s confidentiality guidelines as they pertain to victim testimony and involvement?
  • Does your program consider the emotional, as well as the physical, safety of the victim? For example, does your program try to understand the issues with which the victim may be dealing, and are your workers sensitive to issues of trauma or other mental health diagnoses?
  • Do facilitators intervene immediately if the focus of a restorative justice meeting becomes uncomfortable for the victim?
    • Do they have training to deal with the emotional reactions that can result from this type of interaction?

 

  • Do the physical environments of restorative justice venues consider the victim’s safety, i.e., parking, lighting, etc.?
  • In processes involving face-to-face meetings, are the victim and offender scheduled to arrive/leave at different times, so that offender does not have the opportunity to harass, threaten or coerce the victim?
    • Are escorts provided to victims into and departing the venue?

Information

  • Has your program worked with victims and victim service providers to determine the kinds of information about your program and restorative justice processes that victims need, and have you prepared these materials?
  • Are victims given a comprehensive explanation of the events to take place, i.e., orally, in writing, and/or by audiotaped or videotaped materials?
  • Does your program provide victims with an information brochure that outlines their options for involvement and describes what they can expect if they choose to participate?
  • Do you tell the victims about the possible "dangers or disadvantages" of this process and not just about the possible "benefits"?
  • Is your program staff familiar with all local, state and national resources for victims so they can make appropriate referrals?
    • Do you have a printed list of services/resources to give to victims?
    • Do you have a "glossary of terms" for victims that are utilized throughout justice processes?

 

  • If victims need help with referrals, do you tell them how to advocate for themselves and help with the process, if needed?
  • Does your program have working collaborative agreements with domestic violence programs or other community/victim resources for referrals or assistance in planning for the victim?
  • Does your program provide information in different formats, i.e., Braille or other languages?

 

  • Is your program accessible for people with disabilities?
    • Does your program provide assistance with paperwork ("reasonable accommodation") to those with disabilities?
  • Is there someone working with the victim who has knowledge of disability issues and has connections with other agencies who specialize in disabilities?

 

 

  • Are your program’s staff who provide referrals and assistance trained in victims’ needs and rights?
    • Are they trained about resources in the community?
    • Are any of them victims/survivors?
  • Is there a mechanism in place to check with victim advocates to see if s/he can offer any insight/support to the victim in restorative justice cases?

 

Choice

  • Does your program inform victims that it is completely up to them whether or not they want to participate in restorative justice processes?
  • Does your program inform victims of their options for varying levels/degrees of participation?
  • Does your program offer choices of dates, times and places?
  • Does your program offer a choice of venues, i.e., who can be present, who will not be present, etc.
  • Does your program offer the victim the opportunity to have an advocate, probation officer or other support person present during restorative justice processes?
  • Do you provide victims with a written list of the rights to which they are entitled when participating (or choosing not to participate) in your program?
  • Do you understand that victims, both with and without disabilities, have the right to make choices, regardless of whether the staff agrees or disagrees?

 

  • Does your program inform victims that they can change their minds about any of their previous choices?
  • Does your program amend its normal practices to meet the special needs of victims (for example, a frail individual who is homebound and cannot travel to the designated site)?



Testimony

  • What procedures are in place in your program to ensure that there is always an appropriate environment for victims to tell their stories?
  • Does your program have a way to address the needs of victims with cognitive disabilities, i.e., difficulty with verbal expression and understanding?
  • Is there a way to bring in someone who specializes in communicating with those victims?
  • Do you assure that everyone present is "on the side" of the victim and will support her/him during and after the testimony?
  • Do you let victims know that they only need to tell as much as they wish?
  • Do you assure confidentiality of the content of the victim’s testimony?
  • If a victim chooses not to participate, are there other options for the victim to provide testimony?
    • Are those options described in writing and given to victims?
  • Is there someone (a trained individual) who can assist the victim in preparing his or her statement and/or reading it, should the victim not be able to do it him/herself?
  • Is there opportunity provided for the victim to ask questions of the offender?
    • Does your program offer victims assistance in this process (writing questions down, offering to act as facilitator, etc.)?
  • Does your program provide interpreters for those who are deaf, hearing impaired, speak English as a second language, or speak no English?


Validation

  • What types of support does your program offer to victims who are providing testimony for restorative justice processes?
  • Has your program staff gone through sensitivity /cultural training to be more effective in validation?
    • Do they act interested in the victim’s story and not try to cut him or her off?
    • Do they make victims feel as though their input is valuable and express gratitude for their participation?
    • Do they offer words of encouragement ("Take your time; focus on someone safe; take deep breaths;" etc.)?
    • Do they understand the importance of body language (eye contact; nodding head; keeping arms open instead of crossed over chest; etc.)?
  • Does your program staff ask the victim, "How can we help you feel validated?"
  • What does your program do to ensure that offenders and others will also validate victims’ testimony?
  • What does your program do if offenders or others fail to validate the victim’s testimony?

 

  • Does the perpetrator get the clear message, "What you did was solely your responsibility and it was not okay to do that"?
  • Does the victim get the clear message, "What was done to you was wrong; it was not your fault; you are justified in feeling afraid, angry and unforgiving"? (NOTE: In a domestic violence situation, it is important for both the victim and the perpetrator to hear that the responsibility for the violence rests solely with the perpetrator, and not at all with the victim. This must be stated up front; nods and body language are not enough.)
  • Does your program have a standard "thank you" letter that you send to victims after they have testified?
  • Does your program have a standardized evaluation process/form for victims to complete, and assess their satisfaction with and opinion of your program and restorative justice processes?

 

Restitution

  • Do you consider restitution in every case?
  • What procedures are in place in your program to ensure that restitution payment is the first financial responsibility of offenders (or a dual priority with cases that also involve child support)?
  • Does your program provide victims with assistance in documenting their losses for the purposes of restitution?
  • Who in your program is responsible for holding offenders accountable with regard to restitution?
  • Does your program emphasize to offenders the role of accountability in not only repairing the harm they caused, but also as a component of holding them accountable to their victim and to their community?
  • What are the consequences to the offender if he or she does not pay?
  • Who in your program is responsible for verifying claims? Is restitution only owed for uninsured expenses?

 

  • Who in your program provides victims with information about the offender’s restitution schedule, amounts that will be paid, etc.?
  • Does your program provide financial resource assistance in obtaining funds from other emergency funds?
  • Do you ask the victim if there are other ways the offender can repay that would be more beneficial or healing than monetary compensation?
  • Do you tell the victim about Victim Compensation and how to apply?

 

  • Are victims provided with information about civil remedies in cases where the offender does not fulfill his/her restitution obligation, and provided with assistance in seeking such remedies?
  • Do you talk with the victim, and those responsible for holding the offender accountable, about the victim’s safety issues relating to restitution?
  • Do you provide financial reimbursement to the victim for mileage to participate in any of your programs?
  • Do you provide reimbursement for lost wages due to involvement with your program?

 

These questions provide a good "check list" to measure the effectiveness of a correctional agency’s restorative justice programs relevant to victim sensitivity, and respect for the victim’s participation.

1Russell, Susan. (2000). "Questions for Restorative Justice Practitioners to Consider When Creating and Implementing a Victim-centered and Victim-balanced Program." Waterbury, Vt.: Center for Crime Victim Services.