In a victim offender meeting, juvenile offenders are given the opportunity to come together with their victim(s) of crime in order to resolve the harm which is created by crime. Traditionally, a juvenile is referred to the Program by his/her probation officer, youth intervention worker, or Neighborhood Accountability Board. In many cases, VOMP may be utilized as an alternative to going to court for restitution, or, may even be part of a comprehensive design to assist a youth in clearing his/her criminal record.
During the meeting, the facts of the case (as each individual understands them) are revealed and discussed, feelings about the offense may be expressed and shared, and issues involving restitution may be negotiated.
The philosophy behind this process is that given the opportunity, those directly involved in the crime (victim & offender) are in the most appropriate position to discuss and resolve the crime, restoring the situation as nearly as possible to before the crime occurred. Juveniles admitted to the Program are called upon to be accountable for their actions, and are empowered to lend their voice to the process as well. There are no judges dictating how the case must proceed. The only parties capable of making decisions in this process are the victim and offender themselves.
Victims often have questions which only their offender can answer. Victim Offender Mediation provides a unique opportunity for this questioning to take place in a safe, controlled environment. In mediation, victims are encouraged to express, directly to their offender, how the crime affected them. Without mediation, offenders are rarely confronted with the human consequences of their actions. As a result, many juvenile offenders view all crime as "victimless."
In Victim Offender Meetings, victims play an active role in determining the amount of restitution and in deciding how it is to be repaid. This allows parties to think beyond money as the only means for restitution. Examples of victim offender contracts could include provisions for the juvenile to do yardwork, clean up a graffiti infested neighborhood, or to attend church/temple/synagogue.
VOMP gives juveniles an opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding the incident from their perspective. Similarly, in a mediation, juveniles are given the opportunity to apologize, and/or receive forgiveness. The process allows offenders to be responsible for their actions and often results in unique and realistic repayment arrangements such as work for victims or community service work.
Victim offender meetings relieve the court and probation system of the burden of establishing restitution amounts. Referrals to VOMP often result in quicker disposition of cases; on average, cases referred to VOMP are closed as resolved within 4 to 6 weeks. The VOMP-RJ Program for the County of Santa Clara has a success rate for victim offender meetings higher than 96.4% for the last calendar year. After each mediation, all parties are asked to fill out questionnaires. The goal is to get feedback from all participants as to how the process worked, and whether the parties were satisfied with the outcome. The response from hundreds (if not thousands) has been overwhelmingly positive. The following represent some sample responses used with the participants' permission:
VICTIM: "I came into this process very angry, and still feeling very hurt. I also didn't know exactly what to expect. This [process] helped me to put closure on this case. I really do feel good now."
JUVENILE: "I was sort of scared about meeting my victim, I though [he/she] was going to hate me. I think the meeting will help me not to do any bad things later because before, I had a different idea about what a victim was . . ."
PARENT: "I've been having a very difficult time at home with [my child.] I wanted something for [him/her] that would help to make [him/her] understand that what [he/she] was doing affected everyone, including the family and the community. I wish I had known about the Program a long time ago."
What these statements really say is that the value of this Program reaches far deeper than any statistics could indicate. The positive results achieved through face-to-face communication go beyond a mere restitution agreement. People's attitudes are changing about crime, about the community they live in, and about one another. Juvenile offenders and crime victims alike are able to come together in order to take the power into their hands; juveniles are empowered by speaking for themselves, without their parents or their attorney or judge telling them how to make right what they have put wrong. Likewise, crime victims are invited in to the process as vital in their participation, rather than as an afterthought to tell their story, and to receive payment for their losses. Lastly, parents are given the opportunity to see their children take responsibility, and act in a manner worthy of pride.