Guiding Principles and Restorative Practices for Crime Victims and Survivors

By Pavelka, Sandra; Seymour, Anne | Corrections Today, January-February 2019 | Go to article overview

Guiding Principles and Restorative Practices for Crime Victims and Survivors


Pavelka, Sandra, Seymour, Anne, Corrections Today


Restorative justice, which is realized in states and localities as an innovative framework that provides a foundation for fairness in justice policies and practice, views and responds to wrongful occurrences and crime with an alternate and innovative approach. The ultimate goal of restorative justice is to repair the harm caused by a wrongful incident, while addressing the needs of the victim, offender and the community. (1) Opportunities are provided for those most directly affected by crime to be involved in responding to its impact. This approach ultimately seeks to address the myriad of needs of victims and ensure individual and community safety, while the alleged or convicted defendant is held accountable and develops competencies in order to become a better and more productive person.

The principles and practices aligned with restorative justice have been applied to educational settings, prevention, intervention and diversion initiatives, crime victim and survivor services, juvenile justice and criminal justice systems. Restorative practices and applications include: victim/offender dialogue (also called victim/offender mediation), circles, reparative and accountability boards, restorative conferencing, "Impact of Crime on Victims" programming, restorative community service, diversion and apology banks. In addition, restorative justice has been applied in comprehensive facilitative dialogue, capacity building and community development.

This article offers a historical perspective of the United States' crime victim and survivor assistance field, and its role in restorative justice. Six guiding principles for victim- and survivor-focused restorative justice are identified by the authors, as well as restorative legislation, practices and future perspectives.

The victim assistance field in the United States

While efforts to identify and address the needs of crime victims and survivors began in the 1960s using the "lessons learned" from the women's and civil rights movements, the emergence of the professional field of crime victim services is often cited as occurring in 1972, with the creation of the Aid of Victims of Crime in St. Louis, Missouri, Bay Area Women Against Rape in California and the Washington D.C. Rape Crisis Center--three organizations that still thrive to this day. Crime victims had few statutory rights, were viewed primarily as "witnesses" needed to secure convictions and were often blamed and shamed for their victimization. The nascent days of the field focused on passing victims' rights laws, identifying and addressing the needs of victims across the criminal justice spectrum, as well as providing services for the majority of victims who did not report crimes to authorities.

National leadership that propelled the movement into a professional discipline was provided initially by the National Organization for Victim Assistance and victim-driven organizations founded by grieving survivors, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children. The passage of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) in 1984 that created a federal fund for victim assistance derived from fines and fees assessed against convicted federal defendants, along with the National "21" Drinking Age Bill promulgated by MADD, set the victim assistance profession on a path to activism that was driven by "the power of the personal story" that is still prevalent today.

The focus then of victim-driven public policy initiatives at the national, state and local levels was "tough on crime," with collective support from victims and their advocates for longer sentences and more prisons. With victims feeling long-ignored in justice processes, the victim assistance field leaned heavily toward a punitive model of justice.

The emergence of restorative justice

The seminal work of Dr. Howard Zehr, Kay Pranis and Dr. Mark Umbreit (among others) provided a foundation for restorative justice primarily at the state and local levels as the victim assistance profession was becoming a driving force in criminal and juvenile justice policy. …

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