RD48 - Restorative Justice

Executive Summary:
Senate Joint Resolution 362 (SJR 362) was introduced by Senator Norment during the 2009 Regular Session of the General Assembly. (*1) Although SJR 362 was left in House Rules, the Executive Committee of the Crime Commission approved study of the resolution. As such, the Crime Commission was directed to examine a number of key issues regarding various types of restorative justice initiatives, specifically including victim-offender reconciliation programs, legal and practical issues, and possible recommendations relating to the preferred types of restorative justice. It should be emphasized that the primary purpose of the study was to provide an update and overview of restorative justice practices in Virginia, as the subject has not been examined in over 10 years.

Crime Commission staff utilized several methodologies to address the directives of the mandate regarding restorative justice, including an overview of national, state and academic literature, statutory review of Virginia Code relating to restorative justice and a multi-state survey of statutory and legislative restorative justice efforts.

Restorative justice practices have become increasingly popular in recent years. Restorative justice can be defined as a theory of justice that focuses on repairing the harm that a criminal offense inflicts on victims, offenders, and communities. There are many different forms of restorative justice practices, which involve key stakeholders to varying degrees. The extent to which these programs have been evaluated varies widely; however, research has produced consistent findings that victims, offenders and communities can benefit greatly from such practices. In particular, victim-offender reconciliation, also known as victim-offender dialogue or mediation, appears to be the most widely implemented practice and provides the most evidence of positive outcomes for the victim and offender in regards to levels of satisfaction, perceived fairness, and reduced recidivism rates.

When examining other state statutes relating to restorative justice, it can be concluded that there is no one specific approach that is used; rather, each state appears to provide limited authority for certain types of restorative justice programs for specifically designated classes of offenders or offenses. The Virginia Code affords the ability to include restorative justice-based principles in sentencing in the following ways:

• As part of a suspended sentence or as part of probation (§ 19.2-303);
• As community-based probation for non-violent offenders (§ 9.1-174);
• As part of any juvenile’s sentence, provided that he is not tried as an adult (§ 16.1-278.8);
• As part of victim impact statements (§ 19.2-299.1, § 16.1-273); and,
• Ability of Crime Victim and Witness Assistance Programs to establish a victim-offender reconciliation program (§ 19.2-11.4).

Restorative justice-based programs have been operating in Virginia since the 1980’s with promising outcomes for victims, offenders, and communities. There are several types of restorative justice-based initiatives operating in Virginia, which are based in a variety of settings, including courts, prisons, jails, and schools. In summary, the traditional approach of justice in Virginia can, at a minimum, be supplemented by some innovative, evidence-based restorative justice approaches. It also appears that victim-offender mediation is the preferred method due to the fact that it is the approach that has been researched the most and is therefore considered evidence-based. However, it is recommended that more consistent, rigorous program evaluations be carried out for all types of restorative justice-based initiatives in order to justify wider implementation in Virginia. The Crime Commission made no formal recommendations as a result of this study.

(*1) S.J.R. 362, Va. General Assem. Reg. Sess. (2009). See Attachment 1.