The philosophy of mediation is widely accepted in Oregon as a guiding principle to assist individuals and neighborhoods to work through conflicts and disputes. Victim offender mediation (VOM) is generally regarded as a process that gives crime victims “the opportunity to meet the perpetrators of these crimes in a safe and structured setting, with the goal of holding the offenders directly accountable while providing important assistance and compensation to the victim.” The practice of VOM may vary in terms of emphasis from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Although a rather extensive body of empirical research exists regarding victim offender mediation, a critical piece that is frequently missing is a detailed description of the actual mediation process and its organizational context. Such a description would allow practitioners and other decision-makers to develop a feel for how victim offender mediation actually works. This study looked at six programs operating in six Oregon counties and helps to fill this gap.
Most VOM programs share certain principles: First, in nearly all programs, victims volunteer to meet with the offender who committed an offense against them. In about
80% of programs, offender participation is also voluntary. Second, victims and offenders are encouraged by mediators to share their feelings regarding the impact as well as the facts of the crime event. Third, typically there is an opportunity for offenders to help
“make things right” for the victim through working out an agreement which may include a formal apology, restitution, or community service. In this study, the mediation process
was very similar across the six sites and included a period of time for each side to share their experience of the offense and ask questions, followed by a discussion of how the harm can be repaired and the option of formalizing agreements through written contracts.
Primary Research Question
1. What differences and similarities exist across the six VOM programs?
2. What is the impact of VOM on juvenile offender attitudes and behaviors?
3. What is the impact of VOM on victim satisfaction?
4. Do differences in VOM programs yield different outcomes?
5. What are the primary obstacles and opportunities for VOM development?
The programs included in this study operated in Clackamas County, Deschutes County, Jackson County, Lane County, Multnomah County, and Polk County. Data collection for this study began in late October 2000 and concluded in early May 2001. Four data sets were developed to address the above questions: stakeholder interviews; victim and offender interviews; record data; and VOM observations. One hundred and four victims and 93 offenders who had participated in VOM since July 1999 were interviewed. Interviews addressed questions of how participants are prepared for the VOM session, participant satisfaction with VOM, the perceived fairness of the mediator, the nature of the agreements, and the extent to which participation was perceived to be voluntary.
Fifty-five stakeholders in the county-based programs and juvenile justice systems were interviewed, including program directors, judges, police officers, juvenile corrections personnel and volunteers. They provided information about the programs, their respective justice systems, and their assessments of how well VOM functioned. Program data files were tapped to develop descriptive statistics including types of cases referred, volume of caseload, and completion of restitution agreements. Limited data on offender recidivism was made available for four programs. In addition to the interview and record data described above, four VOM mediations and three offender VOM intake/preparation sessions were observed.
This study provides a rich, descriptive accounting of VOM programs. It does not attempt to compare the experiences of those participating in VOM to those who do not; and it does not examine the extent to which VOM correlates to reduced recidivism.
The immediate outcomes for VOM participants are many. They include: nearly nine out of ten respondents in both groups believed the agreement was fair to the offender and to the victim; nearly 80% of victims and offenders report feeling positive about the mediation meeting, about 5% were negative about the meeting, and the remainder had mixed feelings about it; nearly nine out of ten victims reported feeling satisfied with the outcome of the meeting; three-quarters of the offenders indicated being satisfied with the outcome; eighty percent of victims and offenders indicated being satisfied with how the justice system handled their cases.
The longer term outcomes are also varied. For victims, an important longer term outcome is that they receive payment for at least some of the losses they have sustained. Data collected from program sites indicated that from 79% to 97% of contracts negotiated in the most recent program year were either completed or in progress. Another important outcome for victims is the extent to which they feel their offenders have been held accountable. Over 70% of victims at the time of interview indicated that they believed the offender had been held adequately accountable for his/her behavior. Nine out of ten victim respondents would choose to participate again and would recommend VOM to other victims.
In Oregon, both private non-profit and public justice system sponsored VOM programs demonstrated creativity and flexibility in finding ways that would help them reach their restorative justice goals. The results of this study support a flexible, open approach to how mediation is conceived. Programs must continue to assess the restorative balance across all the components and services experienced by program participants. In some instances, programs themselves may need to expand or change services to improve the restorative balance. For recidivism data, Oregon’s commitment to integrated juvenile and adult criminal justice data, sentencing support tools, and a Public Safety Data Warehouse may provide a more robust means by which to assess the extent to which VOM correlates with reduced recidivism, and for which offenders.