The concept of offering the opportunity for victims and convicted offenders to meet, for offenders to hear about, in detail, the impact their actions caused to happen to others and to admit and accept responsibility for what they have done. It provides the possibility of the offender seeking to make some amends for what they have done.
NSW has a Restorative Justice Unit in the Department of Corrective Services that specialises in victim-offender conferences and also facilitates a range of other restorative justice processes.
Working with victims of crime and offenders and their families and the community, the unit promotes and facilitates the ideas opportunities of reconciliation and healing. ‘Restoration aims to restore a sense of community values like respect, understanding, sorrow, regret, shame and responsibility.
Under this VICTIM – OFFENDER CONFERENCING model, the Restorative Justice Unit seeks to safely bring together those who have a stake in a specific offence, in order to:
- collectively identify and address harms, needs and obligations, and
- begin the process of healing by putting things ‘as right as possible’.
Unlike the criminal legal system, Restorative Justice recognises that victims are the people most affected by crime and places them and their needs at the centre of the process.
Victim-offender conferences can take place:
- after an adult offender is sentenced, and
- in relation to a wide range of offences.
But will only take place if:
- the offender accepts responsibility for the offence, and
- both the victim of crime and the offender agree to take part.
What happens at a Victim-Offender Conference?
After a long period of preparative processes by the trained facilitators in the Restorative Justice Unit who will ultimately conduct the meetings if they proceed, the victims of crime, the offender, and their support people will meet safely and privately. Both sides will have been fully briefed.
They will talk about:
- what happened
- how people have been affected, and
- what, if anything, can be done to make things better.
What are the benefits of participation?
Victims of crime often feel silenced by traditional ‘Justice’ processes. In this model they get the opportunity to listen to the offender describe what they did, to challenge the offender’s version, and to tell the offender and their supporters how the crime has affected them.
Unlike the criminal system, this process respects the victims and has their needs as central to what happens.
Offenders must face the people they have harmed, tell them what happened, be challenged by the victims, hear of the impact of the crime on the victims and then have the opportunity to take responsibility for what they have done and to try to put things right.
Benefits to victims: Sometimes this will be the first time victims and offenders face and confront each other after the crime, when much that has remained unsaid, can be spoken.
Victims say they felt empowered by:
- hearing and seeing the offender and having rights
- having their own voice and asking questions
- expressing how they have been affected
- holding the offender accountable, and
- having a say in how the harm can be repaired.
Offenders can take positive steps through:
- acknowledging responsibility for their actions
- hearing first hand how their actions have affected others, and
- actively participating in deciding how the harm can be repaired.
To apply for Restorative Justice Unit programs and services regarding offenders in NSW, or for more information see The NSW Department of Corrective Services Restorative Justice Unit website or contact via:
Ph: 02 8346 1054
A victim offender conference facilitator can answer your questions, send you a DVD or arrange to visit you to talk further about the programs.