Webinar presenter Vicki Assegued answered a number of your questions after her presentation, “Restorative Justice and Victim-Offender Dialogue.” Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: How many sessions do you recommend where victims will meet with offenders?
Vicki Assegued: Thank you for that question. So, a lot of the work in victim-offender dialogue happens before the dialogue actually happens and so, it depends on the type of situation, if it’s a low-level misdemeanor type of case, I usually will just do one intake session with the offender and one intake with the victim and then bring them together for one meeting. If it’s a more serious situation and more harmful crime, then, I might do more meetings prior to the actual dialogue with both the victim and the offender, helping them prepare for the meeting. And then the dialogue itself can be one meeting or it can be several meetings depending on what the participants want.
Audience Question: And in the kind of in that same vein, we have another question, do you find that most victims are willing to meet with an offender and how do you work with reluctant victims if not?
Vicki Assegued: I have found that many victims do want to work with offenders. Some don’t, and I really respect whatever the decision is. My role when I first talk with the victim is to explain to them, well first, to really hear from them what their experience was and how they’re doing now after that experience. And then to talk with them about what restorative justice is and how it works and how it can potentially benefit them. And I share with them perhaps, some other situations, anonymously of course, of other people who’ve gone through the dialogue process, who’ve been in similar types of incidents and how they have benefited. And I also talk with victims about what it would be like if we don’t do anything if you continue with how you are, what other support are you getting and can you get. And I help them to understand the type of support that they can get from this dialogue process. And, really, until you’ve sat in a dialogue, it can be difficult to imagine how incredibly healing and transformative it is and I do my best to describe that to encourage victims to participate. I also don’t want to be too pushy and so if the victim is really clear that they don’t want to participate, then I may support them to figure out what other types of support they can get.
Audience Question: We have a number of questions that deal with the kinds of cases that you feel are qualified for restorative justice. So, what do you consider a low-level crime, I know you mentioned misdemeanor before but what do you consider a low-level crime?
Vicki Assegued: Right. So, lower-level crime would be a first time shoplifting case that is not a lot of money, it could be a first time graffiti case that can be cleaned up fairly easily. It’s usually the first offense by someone and it is a misdemeanor and the case where the harm can be repaired more easily than with a more serious offense.
Audience Question: And again, do facilitators need to be careful in talking to a victim and referring to it as a low-level crime or is that general and not an issue?
Vicki Assegued: I don’t usually use the term “low-level” when I’m talking to victims and offenders. I use it to describe what type of case when I’m training but when I’m meeting with a victim and offender, I do not use the term “low-level,” I say shoplifting, graffiti, vandalism, whatever the actual thing is that happened because for some people, even though we use the term low-level it could be very serious the impact that it’s had. Somebody shoplifting from a store can very seriously impact someone who works there or someone who was shopping there or the offender himself. So, that term needs to be used carefully.
Audience Question: So, I suspect, I know that your response is specific to restorative justice but maybe opening up on the area a little bit with this next question from Janelle. Do you have any experience with victim-offender dialogue for the death penalty or murder cases and what are your thoughts? Again, I’m assuming this doesn’t fall into the category of restorative justice but are there some benefits there?
Vicki Assegued: Oh, absolutely and it actually does fall in restorative justice. There are situations where a murder has taken place and the offender is incarcerated sometimes for a long sentence, sometimes for life, and the victim has been brought in to the prison to meet with the offender and had absolutely incredible dialogue and healing processes happened. So, it does happen and it can be amazingly helpful for both parties and this is the type of case that would take plenty of preparation ahead of time and someone very skillful in facilitating.
Audience Question: Is restorative justice an opportunity for the victim to have an open book conversation with the offender even if it includes being judged by the victim?
Vicki Assegued: Even if it includes being judged by the victim? Yes, it is an opportunity for the victim. I think that’s supposed to be judged by the offender or judged by the victim, yes. The dialogue is an opportunity for everybody to open up and share. The offender can open up and share what led them to do what they did, how they feel about it. The victim can share. The beauty of it is that it’s very different than what’s in a court process where the victim and the offender are asked very specific questions and they can only answer the questions that they’ve been asked. In the victim-offender dialogue, everybody is invited to ask everything that they want to ask and to talk about what they want to talk about. And, in the intake process, I really create an environment so that when the people come together, it’s a very positive space in the room. And we’re there, we all know what we’re there for and so, there isn’t a lot of negativity and shaming and blaming. There can be a lot of emotion and a lot of sharing and pain coming out and it’s done in a way that’s very constructive.
Audience Question: Could you talk about how you approach dealing with cases in which there is more than one offender who was involved in the incident? How do you inform juvenile offenders that are co-offenders participating in the dialogue process and whether you have to meet with the victim jointly or separately, things like that.
Vicki Assegued: So, if there have been several offenders in the same case, then the offenders who committed the crime together, they know each other because they were committing the crime together and so yes, in those types of situations, I can bring the group of offenders together with the victim or group of victims who have been harmed. And then, we have a larger circle where each of the offenders has the opportunity to share what their experience was and each of the victims has the opportunity and then we work together to create what each of the offenders will do to make things right.
Audience Question: Can you provide us with some resources that support restorative justice processes that are most useful for building support for those processes?
Vicki Assegued: Yes. There are many resources online and I will give you the names of a few of the leaders in restorative justice and then you can look them up online and see what they have to share and those include Mark Umbreit, Howard Zher. Howard Zher wrote a book called “Changing Lenses,” which wonderfully explains what restorative justice is. Kay Pranis, Lorenn Walker, Ron Clausen, and then there’s also IIRP, which is the International Institute for Restorative Practices. So, those are some of the resources where you can look.
Aaron: I’ll try to research some of those and see if we can include some of those links on the Justice Clearinghouse resource page that we’ll be sending out a link for tomorrow.
Audience Question: How do you address situations where an offender isn’t remorseful and shows signs of being manipulative like with intimate partner violence?
Vicki Assegued: When I meet with the offender and talk with them about what happened, part of my role is to assess how the offender feels about the situation if they understand some of the ramifications if they are remorseful. Even if the offender is willing to participate, I might decide that the case is not appropriate for a restorative justice dialogue if I feel that it would not go well and that the victim will be revictimized. And so, that’s part of my job as a restorative justice facilitator is when I interview to make sure that all the elements are there so that the process can go very well.