NOVJM believes that after a traumatic loss, as many options as possible should be made available to victims families, especially after their loved one has been murdered by a young offender. Victims families and loved ones should choose the path after the murder that THEY CHOOSE, and they should be supported in whatever helps them and is meaningful to them.
Some victims choose to attempt communication with the offender. There are several types of victim-offender dialogue, but those are not possible when the victim has been murdered. Offenders and their representatives can only hope to dialogue with those left behind in a murder case, if dialogue is ever sought. That usually means the victims’ families or victim advocates and representatives.
An excellent resource to learn more about restorative justice in its purest, victim driven form, is run by Lisa Rea on LinkedIn.
Another interesting website The Apology Project allows offenders to publicize their remorse where victim private contact is not possible.
Many victims’ families support restorative justice, a program that usually does not replace the criminal justice process, but which can allow dialogue between stakeholders surrounding crime and its impact.
Restorative justice is a philosophy that sees crime as a community problem to be solved by all the stakeholders involved. Its history is based in tribal cultures where incarceration was not possible, nor was removal from the tribe. Offenders had to be made to be held responsible, but their obligation was to work to make whatever wrong they had committed right by whatever means possible. It was literally justice through restoring the victim. And all affected sat in circle together to address the problem – victim, offender, families of both, tribal leaders, neighbors, all affected. All stakeholders. All had a stake is seeing the wrongs acknowledged and made right in whatever way they could. Restorative justice focuses on repairing victims and the community when one person’s actions cause hurt and harm.
Restorative justice is/should be by definition victim-driven and victim-focused. Restorative justice requires the offender to hear and embrace the full harm they have caused, to take full responsibility for the harm he/she has caused and to do his/her best to make restitution and/or repair the harms to the victim in whatever way they can. This process can be very positive for all concerned. The internet has much more information available on restorative justice that we will not attempt to duplicate here.
We urge all victims and offenders and their surrogates to seek the many professional options available if they wish to seek restorative justice. We can make specific referrals as well, if you contact NOVJM. And there are several NOVJM members that have previously and continue to be willing to speak as victim surrogates to offenders behind bars, offender advocates, or others interested in victim-offender dialogue.
Applying Restorative Justice Principles to Public Policy Disagreements
Most advocates for juvenile justice reform say they support restorative justice. Since part of that means ALL stakeholders at the table, we continue to urge them to embrace that philosophy in all areas of their advocacy.
We note that restorative justice principles echo our NOVJM mission – that is, making sure that victims rights to be notified of and heard in matters pertaining to the case of the offender in their family member’s murder are respected.
Since our organizational inception in 2006 we have offered ourselves as victim representatives to the juvenile advocacy community in order to have indepth discussions about offender sentencing that they are concerned about.
We know that the public policy debate around what is proper sentencing for teen killers is an agonizing one. Many juvenile advocates are deeply well-meaning people with high ideals about repairing brokenness in our society.
It must be acknowledged that, no matter what, there is no way to “fix” all the problems raised by teens who kill and the devastation left behind. There is little that can happen to make this all right.
If we are all to follow the principles of restorative justice in this public policy discussion, we should observe mutually respectful behavior. Those who have been focused on “doing right” by the offenders, however, must begin by doing right by the victims. And the victims families must do the same.
Victims families know the harsh realities of what some very broken people are capable of. And it is very important to recognize that when there has been a murder, there is no “restoration” possible. There is a concept called “transformative justice” which might better apply, where those affected by the crime are committed to allowing the devastation to be transformed into something positive. Many of us are dedicated to redemption of tragedy.
While we stand uncompromisingly for ALL victims families to be offered the choice to participate in any and all public policy proposals and discussions pertaining to retroactive proposals that would affect their cases, we also know that there are many other “interested parties” in this discussion besides the victims families representing many areas of expertise related to the criminal justice field and public policy.
Possible Areas of Agreement in Public Policy Discussions
There are many possible areas of public policy reform that we could all work together on. Some of those include:
1. How money spent currently spent on mass incarceration could be better be spent on victims services.
2. How to set more consistent and data-driven standards as to what the age ranges should be where offenders under age 18 can be eligible for transfer to adult court. This could include setting a “bottom age” for transfer.
3. Whether and under what circumstances “direct file” or mandatory transfer of a juvenile offender into the adult system should be allowed.
4. Whether a JLWOP sentence should ever be mandatory.
5. How to give added protections to all juvenile offenders in their legal defense.
6. How to protect victims rights of juvenile offenders more consistently.
7. How to strengthen clemency review opportunities for those over sentenced.
8. How to better have victim restitution made possible for offenders serving long sentences so that they make work for good while behind bars.
9. How to increase Restorative Justice opportunities when victims and offenders wish it.
10. How to reduce the number of teens who kill, and how victims families and offender families could work together in public education, aiming at preventing troubled youth from committing murder.
11. Other possible alternatives to parole such as one-time re-sentencing proceedings for JLWOP cases.
12. More opportunities for transfer to medium and minimum security facilities for lifer who have been rehabilitated, providing more opportunities for work, family, education, and community service.
And there are many other possible areas for discussion. That discussion is best held when victims families are not under the threat of pending legislation which would retroactively force them into parole hearings. Continued anti-victim rhetoric and behavior on the part of advocates for the juvenile offenders will not make any of the above discussion items on this page at all likely or even possible.