National Survey of Victim-Offender Mediation Programs in the United States

The full text of the survey is available in pdf format.

Introduction

Opportunities for victims of crime—primarily of property offenses and minor assaults—to meet their offenders in the presence of a trained mediator have increased in communities throughout the United States. When the first victim-offender mediation (VOM) programs began in the late 1970s, only a limited number of victims in several communities participated. Today, thousands of crime victims in nearly 300 communities nationwide are involved in VOM programs. To determine how widespread this service has become and to promote victim-sensitive mediation practices, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) within the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) provided a grant to the Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking (formerly the Center for Restorative Justice & Mediation), School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, in 1996.

The Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking conducted the largest and most comprehensive survey ever undertaken in the growing field of victim-offender mediation. Far more programs were found, at various stages of development, than had been previously estimated by both the Center and other related organizations, including the international Victim Offender Mediation Association.

This report on the results of the survey provides a brief overview of the international growth of VOM. Also included in this document are the quantitative findings that emerged from the national survey of programs in the United States and a number of themes that were gleaned from the responses to open-ended questions on the survey and from conversations with the staff from the 116 programs (out of 289 programs identified) that participated in interviews. The findings from this national survey of the field have contributed to the development of guidelines for victim-sensitive mediation practices, available in the OVC publication Guidelines for Victim-Sensitive Victim-Offender Mediation: Restorative Justice Through Dialogue.


Growth of Victim-Offender Mediation


A growing number of communities in North America and Europe now provide opportunities for victims of certain crimes and their offenders to meet face-to-face to talk about the crime, to express their concerns, and to work out a restitution plan. In the late 1970s, only a handful of VOM and reconciliation programs existed. Today, more than 1,000 programs operate throughout North America (N=315) and Europe (N=707) (see table 1). Although many VOM programs are administered by private, community-based agencies, an increasing number of probation departments are developing such programs, usually in conjunction with trained community volunteers who serve as mediators. Victim services agencies are beginning to sponsor VOM programs as well.


Many thousands of property-related offenses and minor assaults, involving both juveniles and adults, have been mediated during the two decades since the first Victim Offender Reconciliation Project was initiated in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, in 1974, and replicated in the United States in Elkart, Indiana, in 1978. Some victim-offender mediation programs continue to receive only a relatively small number of case referrals. Many others consistently receive several hundred referrals each year. Some of the more developed programs receive more than a thousand referrals per year. During the past several years, two specific community-based programs in the United States (in Orange County, California, and Portland, Oregon) have received county grants of up to $300,000 to divert 1,000 or more juvenile cases from the overcrowded court systems.


Perhaps the clearest expression of how the field has developed and been recognized for its work is seen in the 1994 endorsement of VOM by the American Bar Association (ABA). After many years of supporting civil court mediation, with limited interest in criminal mediation, the ABA now endorses the process and recommends the use of “victim-offender mediation and dialogue” in courts throughout the United States.


The manner in which the ABA endorsed victim-offender mediation reflects the concerns of many victim service providers that victim-sensitive language be increasingly used in the mediation process. The ABA was initially challenged by a number of its members to consider endorsing “victim-offender reconciliation programs.” The victim caucus on the ABA subcommittee examining this issue could not accept the term “reconciliation,” because it seemed to diminish the legitimate anger that most crime victims experience. The term “reconciliation” might also suggest to victims that they are expected to forgive the offender, even though they may not be ready to do so. The phrase “victim-offender mediation” was later inserted into the ABA debate, as it emphasized the process rather than the expected outcome of mediation. For many, this seemed far more acceptable. The resolution to endorse the field, however, occurred only after the victim caucus recommended the use of the phrase “victim-offender mediation and dialogue” to clearly distinguish this type of mediation from the more settlement-driven civil court mediation, in which both parties are considered disputants and are encouraged to compromise in finding an acceptable agreement. It was the intention of the ABA victim caucus to clearly state that the losses experienced by victims are not open to negotiation, even though the manner in which those losses are restored can be negotiated. The caucus also wanted to ensure that issues of guilt or innocence would not be open to debate.


The discussions within the ABA mirror discussions that have occurred frequently throughout the country over the past 10 years within the VOM field. As a result, a number of programs that formerly identified themselves as VORPs (victim-offender reconciliation programs) have changed their program name to incorporate the new terminology, such as victim-offender mediation programs, mediation services for victims and offenders, victim-offender meetings, or victim-offender conferences. Regardless of how they identify themselves, the majority of programs express a concern for victim sensitivity and appear to value the importance of genuine expressions of remorse, forgiveness, and reconciliation.





The full text of the survey is available in pdf format.

                        author

Jean Greenwood

Jean Greenwood, M. Div., is a researcher, writer, trainer and speaker in the field of victim offender mediation and restorative justice. Jean has trained mediators across the nation and consulted with programs in Sweden and the United Kingdom. MORE >

                        author

Mark S. Umbreit

Dr. Mark Umbreit is a Professor and founding Director of the Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota, School of Social Work. He is an internationally recognized practitioner and scholar with more than 40 years of experience as a mediator, peacemaker, trainer, teacher, and researcher. His… MORE >

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