This weekend I will be joining lawyers from all over the United States in Harrisonburg, Virginia to participate in a symposium, “Restorative Justice’s Role in the Expanding Concepts and Structures of the Practice of Law in the United States.” Sponsored by the Campbell University College of Law and the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, we will be addressing topics such as “A Trauma-Informed Legal Practice” and “How Restorative Practices are Affecting Systemic Change.” Of course, I am most excited to hear what Professor Zehr will bring to the symposium during Friday night's session, “Restorative Justice: Continuing the Conversation.”
This week is also National Crime Victim’s Week. We'll recognize both the upcoming symposium and that this is Crime Victim’s Week by focusing this month’s blog posts on crime victims. Today’s post is about options that Restorative Justice offers to victims of crime.
Restorative justice is another way of looking at criminal wrongdoing. We can compare restorative justice to retributive justice. In a retributive system, we look at what law was broken and what sanctions will be imposed. In restorative justice, the inquiry determines how someone has been harmed and what we can do to meet their needs.
Many readers may associate restorative justice with specific programs. However, in many places where I practice, including the Eastern Panhandle, there is no formal restorative justice program. Rather, some victims (and offenders) choose to supplement or substitute restorative processes to the conventional judicial process.
Victim Offender Conference. Sometimes, victims have questions that they want to pose to an offender. They may want to talk to the offender and ask why the offender acted as they did or find out whether or not the offender’s life has been adversely changed by the crime. Sometimes offenders want to meet with victims or their families to apologize for wrongdoing. Other victims never want to see or hear from the offender, under any circumstances. We have had a few cases in the Eastern Panhandle when the victim and the offender both wanted to meet, face to face. The process involves, at least, one preparatory private meeting with a specially trained facilitator, and then the meeting. There are sometimes meetings after the conference as well. Professor Zehr and Lorraine Stuzman-Amstutz have created an information brochure about victim-offender conferencing that can be located here. http://www.emu.edu/cjp/publications/all/victim-offender-conferencing-manual/victim-offender-conf-manual.pdf.
Family Group Conferencing. In New Zealand, http://www.cyf.govt.nz/youth-justice/family-group-conferences.htmlwhen an offender is a juvenile, the system offers most offenders the option of participating in a family group conference, rather than the conventional judicial process. In the family group conference, interested individuals such as the family, neighbors, church members, mental health professionals, and school professionals, meet together to develop a comprehensive plan to remedy the problems that led to the wrongdoing. While we do not have a formal program in West Virginia, I’ve had the opportunity to convene a modified version of these conferences less formally, but good participation and success. It’s a great option for some families! To learn more about family group conferencing Professor Zehr has co-authored a basic book that can be ordered here: http://zehr-institute.org/book/the-little-book-of-family-group-conferences/.
RJ and some conventional processes. Even if a victim is not interested a restorative justice “process,” one of the strongest principles of restorative justice is meeting the needs of the victim. Most victims have medical bills that may have co-pays or be outstanding. Victims often need more information about the criminal course of their case. Our office often works with victims to find ways to pay medical bills and to navigate the complicated and often confusing judicial system. Finally, most victims need an insider to help them understand what they are going through and find ways to heal. Our office works hard to meet those needs, as varied as they may be.
This weekend, I’ll be presenting on the topic of “Restorative Lawyering.” My presentation part of a non-fiction book I’ve been working on that describes ways that lawyers can best work to meet the needs of their clients, whether they have suffered a civil or criminal injury or whether they are drafting a will or a prenuptial agreement. One of the great joys of my practice is working with victims as they recover from terrible events and find a way to recover their life. Please contact our office if you have been a victim of crime and would like to receive information about some of the options available to you.