The four phases of victim offender mediation process

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According to Umbreit (1988), there are four phases in the victim-offender mediation process : intake, preparation for mediation, mediation, and follow-up. For the purpose of this paper we should take only intake, mediation and follow-up as representing the major stages of the mediation process. Intake refers to the selection process through which participants and samples were obtained, pointing out issues such as a threat to external validity (non-randomized sample). In mediation the actual procedures and immediate outcomes of a specific VOM program, the concept of restitution is examined due to the critical role it plays in most VOM processes. Follow-up is the phase when the victim, after a substantial amount of time, is reexamined to determine

Relative to other alternatives, victim offender mediation is empirically grounded. The studies mentioned in this paper consist of in-depth secondary analysis, which often is a mark of a field of inquiry moving beyond immediate programmatic and policy questions to longer-range questions of causality. Most of the studies are quasi-experimental designs. Several studies offer more rigorous experimental designs with random assignment of subjects and higher-level statistical analysis.

Although most of the studies to be mentioned pay more attention to address the interests of local systems, they all contribute to matter of the modern criminal judicial system as a whole by looking at victim-offender mediation as a means for determining and obtaining restitution, victim- offender mediation as diversion from further penetration into the system, and the relationship of victim-offender mediation to further delinquency or criminality.

VOM provides an opportunity to the both offender and victim to meet face-to-face and talk about the impact of crime on their lives and to develop a plan for "undoing" the harm. Their protected status meant that juvenile offenders account for the majority of the participants used in the experiment. There has been a growing number with adult offenders. According to Umbreit, the vast majority of victim-offender mediation programs are "dialogue driven" rather than "settlement driven" (Umbreit, 1997). As a parsimonious measure it should be noted that victim-offender mediation from now onwards, will be known as VOM.

Intake

Proponents of VOM usually see it as a mean to humanize the judicial system. One of the main goals of traditional judicial system is to compensate for the victim's loss. Ironically, victims are often the ones left out of this process. For while objectivity and non-contaminated are important in court victims often have no direct way of interacting with the charged offender. The modern system of criminal prosecution puts the state/lawyer as representing the victim, and the offender seldom notices how his/her actions have affected the victim. The reverse is also true as victims fill their thoughts with assumptions about offenders. VOM aims at correcting such a discrepancy.

Reformers believe VOM offers an opportunity for both victim and offender to meet in a controlled environment to share their respective views. It was thought that by allowing both sides to internalize the consequences of the crime as a whole, one would increase the level of satisfaction with the entire justice process. Victims have typically reported that they were satisfied with the chance to communicate their perspective and experience of pain resulting from the crime event(Umbreit, 1989).

It should be noted before hand that participation in the VOM process is typically through self-selection, victims were usually given the option of rejecting the mediation process altogether. Amongst victims who refused VOM, there were three typical reasons given: 1) they believed the crime to be too trivial to forgo the time required, 2)they have fears of meeting the offender, or 3) deemed the punishment too mild Gehm, in a study of 555 cases, found that 47 percent of the were victims willing participants (Coates and Gehm, 1985;Gehm 1990;) . It was also found that factors that contribute to victim participation include racial bias (positive if offender was white), severity of offense (positive if the offense was a misdemeanor), and perceived authority (if the victim was representing an institution). Offenders were sometimes advised by lawyers not to participate (Schneider, 1986). The self-selecting nature of most VOM participants would therefore prove to be an obstacle in generalizing such results to situations where victims are not willing/able to participate.

Within the context of the participating victims, however , high levels of satisfaction could still be related to choice. Those who are able to choose among justice options may be more satisfied with their experiences. Several studies mentioned that a victim's willingness to participate is typically initiated by the desire to receive restitution, to confront the offender , to understand the root causes of the crime and therefore share the feeling of loss, to avoid traditional procedures, to change the offender 's behavior, or to personally ensure that the offender is punihed appropriately. (Coates and Gehm, 1985;Umbreit, 1989; Roberts, 1995; Umbreit, 1995).

Satisfaction- The immediate result of Victim-Offender Mediation

Most of the studies reviewed were done on satisfaction of victims and offenders with victim-offender mediation and its outcomes. In general, the level of satisfaction that victims get from VOM processes are consistently high and there have been studies describing the specific types/methods used in VOM that increases its effectiveness.

Umbreit and Roberts (1996) reported the high rates of satisfaction VOM after a meta-analysis of multiple studies done with . While 84 percent of victims engaged in face-to-face mediation were satisfied with the VOM outcome, most of the victims did not meet with their offenders. For those involved in indirect mediation, 74 percent were satisfied with their experience. These findings were consistent with a study done in Kettering, England, where participants both individual and corporate were interviewed about their overall experience having participated in the program. The results indicated that 62 percent of individual victims were satisfied with VOM (Dignan, 1990) . About half of the offenders responding reported being satisfied. Again participants involved in direct, face-to-face mediation were more satisfied than those who used a .

The high levels of satisfaction with VOM also correlated with relatively high levels of satisfaction with the overall criminal prosecution system. Both victims and offenders who participated in VOM were significantly more satisfied with the criminal prosecution system than those involved in traditional court prosecution ( Umbreit and Coates, 1993). A multi-site U.S. study of juvenile crime VOM in four states (Umbreit & Coates, 1993) found that victims were significantly more satisfied (79 percent) with the the judicial system than victims with similar cases(57 percent) who went through regular court procedings.

Closely related to satisfaction is the issue of perceived fairness. Consistent with the vast majority of VOM participants that both the process and the resulting agreements were fair . Subsequently, such experiences led to feedback that the criminal prosecution system as a whole was a fair one. When a comparison study was done, it was found that individuals exposed to VOM were more inclined to see the system as fair than those in the control group. A study done on burglary victims in Minneapolis led to the finding that 80 percent of those who participated in VOM experienced the criminal prosecution system as fair, compared with 37 percent of burglary victims who were not participants in VOM (Umbreit, 1989).

Also related to the overall positive experiences of satisfaction and fairness, was the level of generated support for VOM as an alternative to the traditional justice methods. It was found that nine out of ten participants would recommend VOM to others (Coates and Gehm, 1985; Umbreit, 1991).

Recidivism -the follow-up . A complete process

Rates of recidivism, or the recommitting of an offense, can be interpreted as an indicator of the long-term effectiveness of VOM process. It can also be seen as society's overall response towards an offender upon release, assuming that rehabilitation was successful. There were many studies designed to assess the reliability of VOM by incorporating measures of recidivism both in terms of rearrest/conviction rates and severity of reoffense.

One of the first studies to use recidivism as a reflection of VOM effectiveness was done by Schneider (1986) in Washington D.C.. It was found that youth randomly assigned to a VOM program were less likely to be referred to the authorities for committing a subsequent offense than youth in a similar but separate control group. The individuals were observed a period of 30 months. The results were recidivism rates of 53 percent for the mediation group and 63 percent for the control; the difference was statistically significant but weak.

Nugent, Umbreit, Wiinamaki and Paddock (2001) conducted a meta-analysis of recidivism rates reported in four prior studies. Their analysis involved a sample of 1,298 juvenile offenders (619 for VOM and 679 for control). Through a logistic regression procedure, the authors determined that VOM youth recidivated at a statistically significant 32 percent lower rate than the non-VOM youth, and when they did re-offend they did so for more minor offenses than the non-VOM youth.

A study done by Marshall and Merry (1990) reported recidivism rates on two programs handling adult offenders in the British cities of Wolverhampton and Coventry. The results are preliminary but strong, demonstrating that the benefits of VOM can be generalized even to adults. In both the samples, offenders were divided into a few groups: those who did not participate in mediation at all, those who were involved in discussions with staff even though their victims were unwilling to participate, those who were involved in indirect mediation, and those who met their victims face-to-face. One possible confound to their findings might be that offender records were pre-analyzed to determine criminal behavior for comparable periods before referral to program and after program intervention.

Also in the English town of Kettling, Dignan (1990) compared recidivism rates between the VOM offenders who participated in face-to-face mediation with individuals who were exposed to indirect mediation. Researcher used a "shutter mediation" as the control The differences were small, with the former having a slightly lower rate of 15.4 percent to the latter's 21.6 percent. As with the analysis of satisfaction reported before, face-to-face mediations seem to be more slightly more effective in both short and long-terms than the less personal indirect mediation.

On the other hand, there is evidence questioning the incremental effect VOM brings to the table when it comes to preventing recidivism. In Georgia, a large sample of nearly 800 youth going through mediation between the years of 1993 and 1996 was compared with a control group from an earlier time(Stone, Helms, and Edgeworth, 1998). In the study, there was no significant difference in recidivism rates: 34.2 percent mediated to 36.7 percent non-mediated. Infringement of the conditions of mediation agreements .

Weighing boths sides of the argument, recidivism findings across a fair number of different cultural, societal and economic settings have rather consistently shown the considerable reliability that VOM possesses as a method for restorative justice. And in a good number of examples, youth going through mediation programs are actually faring better.

Conclusion

Modern judiciaries operate on the assumption that the critical task at hand is to decide whether or not someone is guilty instead of deciding what outcomes are most in parallel with societal goals. The question is more often "guilty or innocent?" than "punishment or treatment?".Most courtrooms around the world, are a part of a retributive,punishment orientated judicial system, in which the punishment or rehabilitation of individuals is substantiated by the traditional assumptions of retribution, deterrence, and reformation (McElrae,1998a).

As an alternative to retributive justice, victim-offender mediation has received a remarkable amount of attention from researchers. Based on the evidence provided in paper, there are multiple conclusions that can be made: 1) victim-offender mediation and dialogue correlate with very high levels of satisfaction with the program and with the criminal justice system; 2) participants typically consider the process and resulting agreements as fair; 3) restitution comprises part of most agreements and over eight out of 10 agreements are usually completed; 4) VOM is as effective (if not more so) in reducing recidivism as traditional probation options; 7) there is growing interest in adopting mediation practices for working with victims and offenders involved in severely violent crime and preliminary research shows promising results, including the need for a far more lengthy and intensive process of preparing the parties.

VOM is regarded as an effective means for holding offenders accountable for their actions. While there is a fairly extensive base of research on victim-offender mediation across many sites supporting this contention, far more work needs to be done. Most of the studies reported offer results that are at best suggestive because of the limitations of their research methodology. Far more rigorous studies, including random assignment, control groups and longitudinal designs, are required. Yet in the real world of field research in the criminal justice system, the 25-year experience of victim-offender mediation has become one of the more promising and empirically grounded reform movements to emerge during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

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