SD9 - Restorative Justice in Virginia

Executive Summary:
Restorative justice is the integration of punishment, mediation, and victim-offender reconciliation through a structured system of sanctions and services which emphasize accountability, community protection, and competency development. The Crime Commission examined the restorative justice concept and found that Victim rights has been increasingly important in Virginia. A constitutional amendment guaranteeing certain rights of victims of crimes will be on the ballot in the Commonwealth this year. The use of victim impact statements in sentencing has increased. Virginia has expanded its victim-witness programs.

Virginia authorized the establishment of victim-offender reconciliation programs through local Crime Victim and Witness Assistance Programs in 1995 (HB 1316-Scott). Mediation or reconciliation is used in some areas when the individual case indicates that it is appropriate. Mediation as a requirement can often result in the re-victimization of the crime victim and should be used only when it is in the best interest of the victim and the community as well as the offender. Coercing victims into a process of mediation where they may be vulnerable does not further the goals of restoration. Consideration should be given to examining the role of victim-offender reconciliation or mediation programs in the community. The use of this strategy should be a decision made by the community and the victim. The community criminal justice boards should consider working with their Crime Victim and Witness Assistance Program on developing guidelines for the establishment of such a program locally, in accordance with the provisions of § 19.2-11.4.

The restorative justice model seeks community involvement in decision making and processes by which connections are built among community members. The establishment of the community criminal justice boards (§ 53.1-183) in Virginia's Community Corrections Act for Local-Responsible Offenders serves as an excellent model of community representation. The boards include members not only from law enforcement and corrections but from the judiciary, the defense bar, the treatment community, and education. Local boards should be encouraged to include representatives beyond those required by law. Representation from public health, higher education, crime victims, ex-offenders are some options which should be considered to broaden the community perspective of the boards. The appointments are made by the local governing body, giving community autonomy and control to the boards.