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III. Recommendations for Program Development

Program Recommendations

1. Create an Advisory Board

An advisory board can contribute significantly to the effectiveness of a victim-offender mediation program. Its role may be consultative, without decisionmaking authority. The board can assist in developing the program, maintaining quality in program procedures and practices, fundraising, and building support for the program within the judicial system and local community.

The composition of the advisory board may vary, depending on the context and the needs of the program. The board may include the following members:

  • A victim who has participated in victim-offender mediation.
  • An offender who has participated in victim-offender mediation.
  • Youth from the community.
  • Representatives from the judiciary or court administration.
  • Representatives from probation or parole.
  • Police officers or diversion workers.
  • Representatives from victim services.
  • Social workers or counselors.
  • Health care workers.
  • Other community representatives from the media, schools, and religious groups.

2. Ensure Quality Control Through Program Evaluation

Procedures for program evaluation need to be established from the outset to ensure quality control. Evaluations provide the program staff with general feedback relative to the mediation process itself and the effectiveness of program procedures. Evaluations also offer information about specific cases and the competence of specific mediators. As a result, staff may suggest further training or consultation for specific mediators or followup work with the participants in a particular case. Evaluations should be gathered from participants, mediator, and probation officer or victim service personnel.

Participants. In general, evaluations should be anonymous to encourage honest responses. A coding system can be used, so that staff can identify the particular case and mediator involved.

One model for participant evaluation has two phases. During the first phase, information is gathered at the time of the mediation session. A simple evaluation form is distributed to all participants, including parents of juvenile offenders who might be present, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The participants are asked to complete the evaluation as soon as possible and mail it back, or they may complete the form onsite at the end of the mediation session, if they prefer.

The second phase of this evaluation process occurs at a later time, between 3 and 6 months after the mediation session. The evaluation may be conducted in several ways to gather information:

  • An instrument may be mailed out to all participants with a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

  • A telephone survey may be conducted.

  • A face-to-face interview may be conducted.

The survey or interview may be conducted by a volunteer or a staff member, but should not be conducted by the person who actually mediated the case.

An additional method for gathering information from victims is to sponsor focus groups composed of victims who are willing to discuss their experiences in mediation and offer input about the program and its practices.

Mediator. The mediator also needs to evaluate the mediation. A feedback instrument can be completed by the mediator immediately following the mediation session. Completing a self-evaluation helps the mediator develop observation, analysis, and self-reflection skills. The mediator's evaluation can also alert program staff to any issues or problems that may need further attention or suggest revisions in program procedures.

Probation officer or victim service personnel. Feedback needs to be gathered from probation officers or victim service personnel who work with the parties before, during, and after mediation. This may be accomplished through formal evaluation or informal feedback.

3. Develop and Maintain an Extensive and Effective Network

A crucial component of any victim-offender mediation program is the cultivation of connections with stakeholders in the community. Stakeholders include judges and court referees who may make referrals to the program, victim service personnel who may refer cases or work with clients prior to or after mediation, prosecuting attorneys and public defenders who have an interest in the outcome of the case and the status of the parties, and probation officers who may follow up with offenders. Establishing these relationships is vital to the continuous flow of appropriate referrals and the overall success of the program.

VOM can be used as a diversion from prosecution or after a formal admission of guilt has been accepted by the court, with mediation being a condition of probation (if the victim is interested). Because mediation represents a serious departure from the traditional handling of offenders, a concerted effort needs to be made to educate court-related personnel on the VOM process. They need information about the benefits and risks of mediation, the types of cases suitable for referral, specific outcomes of cases, research findings about the short- and long-term impact of mediation, safeguards and quality control procedures, and evaluation processes. Stakeholders will also want assurance about the credibility of the program itself and the training and competence of the mediators.

In addition to providing information to stakeholders, program staff may seek to strengthen the partnership by exploring avenues for collaboration. The training of mediators is a natural opportunity for collaboration. Victim service providers can present a training segment on the experience of victims. Portions of the training can be held in the office of victim services. Probation officers can provide a parallel segment on the experience of offenders. A judge can describe what happens to victims and offenders in the courtroom and offer information about what typically happens to a case that is not mediated. The presence of representatives of the judicial system also informs trainees that the system appreciates and supports mediation and values their contribution as volunteer mediators. Service providers may take the roles of victims and offenders to demonstrate how a case progresses through the system from beginning to end. Such collaboration not only provides trainees with needed information but also builds relationships within the system that can help ensure the success of a mediation program.

Seeking support for victims and offenders throughout the VOM process provides another opportunity for collaboration. For example, a victim service provider may provide support to a victim throughout the entire mediation process and beyond, even attending the mediation session with the victim, if requested, in the role of a support person rather than as an active participant. Such support may help the victim understand and articulate his or her experiences and needs. Similarly, a social worker or probation officer may be helpful to an offender by encouraging the development of understanding and empathy for the victim and helping the offender prepare for dialogue with the victim.

Building connections within the larger community is also essential, because the community is a stakeholder in the VOM process. Crime has an impact that reaches into the community far beyond the immediate parties involved. Consequently, the community needs to be invested in the VOM process. The community can be a potential source of financial support for a mediation program. Many programs are also dependent on the community as a source of volunteers to serve as mediators. When the public is educated about VOM and becomes invested in it, victims, offenders, and their support persons may be more willing to participate in the process, and other community members may be more likely to volunteer to be mediators. In addition to general public education about mediation, specific connections should be made with community agencies, places of worship and religious organizations, business organizations, and local and State governments, including those organizations that influence and determine legislation and public policy. Program leadership, in particular, needs to have a thorough understanding of the community's structure and resources.

Volunteer mediators may serve as a bridge to the wider community in promoting victim-offender mediation both in the community and in the court system. Also, they can bring diverse cultural perspectives to a program. Volunteers may at times be more effective spokespersons than program staff. Community members who serve as volunteer mediators, for instance, may speak enthusiastically about their experiences with the process, and victims and offenders who have found the mediation experience to be useful can serve as eloquent promoters of the program.

It is also critical for VOM programs to maintain close ties with other VOM programs and agencies providing mediation services to the community. These connections can offer much-needed ongoing support, resources, and consultation. In addition, staff from these programs may wish to share materials and trainers and to collaborate in areas of common concern, such as legislative initiatives.

4. Maintain High-Quality Standards for Mediators

Screen applicants seeking training as a mediator. The first step in creating a team of effective, competent mediators is a comprehensive application process. Prospective mediators should complete a form that requires submission of, among other things, professional and volunteer histories, reasons for choosing to become a mediator, and input about their personal style and value system. Applicants should be asked specific questions about any past victimization experiences they may have had. It is important to assess applicants' feelings about victimization and whether their personal experiences might lead to behavior or attitudes that are predisposed to being judgmental or blaming.

Upon completion of the form, an interview may be conducted to screen further for appropriate applicants. Because attitude and perspective are vital to effectiveness as a mediator, the interview serves as a natural tool for assessing suitability.

Use mediation training as an additional tool for screening mediators. Program staff must observe trainees during role plays. The nature of their skills and their styles as mediators will often surface during this training. Program staff should follow up on any concerns that arise during training by comediating cases with trainees and discussing pertinent issues. Trainees should also solicit input from coaches.

Maintain quality control through a meaningful program staff-mediator relationship. In addition to the quality of mediator training, program staff should maintain close contact with mediators actively involved in cases. Procedures need to be established that provide for this supervisory and supportive relationship. Relatively inexperienced mediators, in particular, may be expected to contact staff after each client contact and to meet with staff both prior to and immediately following the mediation session.

Staff also need to be available for consultation on any case, as requested by the mediator. With more complex cases, brainstorming/consultation sessions involving the mediator, program staff, and, perhaps, other experienced mediators should be arranged at the outset. To provide adequate supervision and support, program staff should comediate a case annually with each mediator.

In the interest of quality, training sessions should be limited to a group of 9 to 12 participants. This ensures that trainees receive individual attention and that trainers have the opportunity to respond to the learning process of each individual. Trainees should be provided with ample opportunities for apprenticeship—namely, comediating with experienced mediators and staff. After such an apprenticeship, trainees can best learn by having frequent opportunities to mediate cases. Much that is gained through training and apprenticeship can be lost if not reinforced by repeated experience with actual cases. Also, mediators who are not called upon may lose interest in the program. Generally, the best strategy is to train a small number of mediators, use them frequently, maintain close contact with them, and provide them with all the resources they need. In addition, trainees should expect to communicate and collaborate with staff; complete evaluations; follow reporting requirements and timely case management and quality procedures; keep updated through continuing education; and make a time commitment (cases done carefully may take up to 15 hours or more). Some programs find that a smaller group of mediators working with more cases shows more commitment to the success of the program than a larger group of mediators working with fewer cases.

Establish regular continuing education as a mechanism for strengthening skills. Continuing education for mediators should be built around issues in the field, advanced skill development, needs expressed by mediators, and staff assessments. Case review can be a vital component in skill development and quality control. For example, mediators may meet quarterly with program staff to present case scenarios that raise questions and concerns that have emerged from real cases.

5. Explore Opportunities for Broadening the Scope of Services

Develop a skills-training course for juvenile offenders and their parents. Develop a course for juvenile offenders and their parents covering topics such as conflict management skills, empathy development, competence development, communication and life skills, esteem-building, anger management, and skills for building peer support.

Improve mediators' ability to serve victims and offenders more effectively. Train mediators to maintain a connection with victims and/or offenders for a specific period of time following the mediation, provide support for the victim, and serve as a mentor to the offender. Mediators may monitor agreements, accompany offenders on job search excursions, and offer encouragement and reminders about restitution obligations.

Coordinate between the community and the offender to perform community service. Establish a public works program that can serve as an arena for community service responsibilities and provide opportunities for staff to develop relationships with offenders and to monitor restitution efforts.

Provide offender rehabilitation opportunities. Provide offenders with job search assistance and actual job training. Establish a work-study program for offenders.

Help offenders develop empathy for victims. Develop victim impact panels and victim awareness classes to help offenders whose victims choose not to participate in mediation.

Use mediation to foster positive family relationships when the offender leaves corrections. Offer mediation to parents and children as juvenile offenders leave a correctional facility to return home.

Training Recommendations

1. Maximize Experiential Learning by Enhancing Role Playing

Demonstrate a realistically performed role play. Trainees need to visualize what is expected of them. The trainer may play the mediator role and experienced mediators or actual victims and offenders may play the other roles. The scenario should be planned out in terms of basic information and perhaps an issue or two that could arise, but it should not be scripted. Role players should seek authenticity and spontaneity.

Arrange the role-play schedule so that each trainee experiences each of the roles. Of course, it is critical that trainees try out the mediator role. They may, however, learn just as much by playing the victim and offender roles, which allow them to reflect on mediator techniques and strategies from the perspective of the participants.

Coach trainees on how to play the roles. The full value of the role-play exercise may be lost if trainees overplay or overdramatize the roles so that the experience bears no resemblance to reality. Instruct trainees to use what they have learned about the victim and offender experiences to play the roles; instructors might tell trainees to try to take on the actual feelings of the character they are playing—to feel what it is like to be a victim and how the victim would respond—and to play the role spontaneously without a script.

Guide trainees in debriefing the role play. Trainers can encourage peer review by structuring the debriefing after the role play. They can allow the trainee playing the mediator to begin by commenting first on what worked, what did not work, and what questions arose. Then, trainees in the victim or offender role can comment next on aspects that worked for them and others that did not and give the mediator feedback on the amount and kind of interventions used and their impact. The observing trainees should also provide feedback. The victim and offender role players can answer questions from the other trainees such as:

  • Did you think that you were listened to? Did you have the chance to tell the full story?

  • Did you feel respected?

  • Did you feel that you had the power to make decisions?

Use experienced mediators to coach role players. An experienced mediator can act as a coach and provide a useful perspective on the victim-offender mediation process. If necessary, the coach can rotate between two groups. Clear instructions should be given regarding the coach's role. In general, it is best if coaches do not intervene unless requested to do so by the trainees—at a moment of impasse, for example. Following the role play, effective coaches seek to elicit information from participants by asking questions and, if necessary, frame their comments in terms of positive tips and possibilities for other ways of proceeding, rather than point out right and wrong methods. The participants learn more if they reflect on the process and its effects and brainstorm possibilities than if they are told explicitly what should have been done.

Videotape role plays involving trainees. Trainees may find videotapes of themselves in the mediator role to be quite useful. Videotapes may be studied by participants to observe and reflect upon their own actions. Videotapes may also be used in a one-on-one coaching situation. In addition, clips of exemplary practices by trainees may be shown to the entire training group.

Design role plays to address specific problem areas. As trainees advance toward more complex role-play scenarios, issues known to challenge many mediators—such as intercultural tensions, agreements deemed unfair or unrealistic by the mediator, controlling or out-of-control parents, and other elements that may lead to impasse—can be built into the scenario.

Use input from victims and offenders in creating role plays. Use actual victim-offender mediation participants to critique role-play scenarios or ask a victim or offender to create a role play. A juvenile offender's input may add realistic issues of adolescent culture to a scenario.

Use actual current cases as the basis for role plays. Trainers should consider designing individualized role plays that portray the actual case a trainee will unknowingly receive as his or her first case.

Role play atypical portions of the mediation process. For a change of pace, trainees may be invited into the hallway one by one to role play greeting the participants as they arrive for the mediation session.

2. Use a Multidimensional Format To Enhance Learning

Incorporate into training the personal experiences, perspectives, and knowledge of trainees. Trainers should always seek to build into training a number of opportunities for interaction. Trainees should be asked what they know about the judicial system and what they might do differently if they were designing a system. Self-reflection about personal responses to conflict should be encouraged. Trainees need to consider their experiences of victimization: how they felt, what responses of others they found helpful, and what they needed to do to move on with their lives. Similarly, trainees should reflect on their experiences of having offended or caused pain to others.

Consider onsite observations by trainees. Trainees should be given the opportunity to observe the court process, including the roles of victims and offenders in that setting. Also, trainees should witness actual mediations before they attend training, in the middle of training (thus splitting the training into two segments), or immediately following training. A visit to a jail or a correctional facility may also be relevant.

Make training as realistic as possible. Trainers should invite actual victims and offenders who have participated in mediation to speak to trainees. Representatives of victim services, probation, and the judiciary can add important and accurate information to the training. A panel of adolescents can educate trainees in adolescent culture and strategies for working with youth. Trainers should illustrate important points by describing actual cases and use material for exercises drawn directly from real cases.

Vary the training format. For each skill or process segment addressed, trainers should present the material briefly; demonstrate the skill or process; distribute a worksheet, if relevant; allow for individual, paired, or group practice; role play; debrief as a group and with a coach; and have interaction between the trainer and trainees. Use stories, written exercises, case studies, guest speakers, individual reflection, onsite observations, modeling, videotapes, overheads, charts, and other learning aids.

Vary the pace of training. Alternate quiet reflective modules with interactive or active modules. Provide generous opportunities for questions at certain points in the schedule and, at other times, make it clear that a move to the next topic is necessary.

Incorporate experiential learning whenever possible. In addition to role plays and practice exercises targeting specific skills, trainers should allow trainees to experience other dimensions of the mediation process. For example, trainees may pair up to experiment with "zingers"—inappropriate, hurtful responses—discovering for themselves how it feels to be ignored, interrupted, and judged. A brief demonstration or role play scripted to be mishandled can prove to be a useful tool for trainees to experience the impact of destructive practices. Trainees may also explore "quick decisions" (e.g., what to do if the offender's parent threatens to leave, if the offender will not talk, if the victim is willing to forgo any monetary restitution).

Make the training manual user friendly. The manual can be developed with handouts that are distributed in conjunction with each topic, so that trainees are not overwhelmed with material. Manuals should be accessible and helpful to trainees.

Be current and creative, be fresh and interesting, be engaging. Trainings should be dynamic rather than static. Program staff need to be alert to repetitious patterns that become tedious for the trainer. Material needs to excite and challenge the trainer. Trainees need to know the trainer's journey with mediation and the impact of this work on his or her life. The trainer needs to take time to "check the pulse" of the audience members throughout the training program: Are their needs being met? Is their attention being held? Does the trainer need to "switch gears"? New material infuses new life into the training. For example, movie clips or newspaper articles portraying conflict scenarios can be used to develop conflict skills.

3. Assist Trainees in Enhancing the Potential of the Preparation Phase

Encourage trainees to consider the use of outside support persons to help prepare the participants for mediation. A victim service provider may help victims determine issues of concern to them. A probation officer may help the offender try to understand the victim's perspective and prepare a tentative script reflecting ideas the offender may wish to express.

Develop materials that trainers can use when preparing for mediation. Some materials or activities that offenders and victims may find helpful as they prepare for mediation include a videotape describing the mediation process; a self-guided workbook for use by victims and offenders that helps them think about their experiences and the impact of those experiences on themselves and others; and a questionnaire that helps victims organize their thoughts about what they wish to express or accomplish during the mediation session.

Explore with trainees methods for seeking to increase victim and offender participation and interaction. Victims and offenders need to be encouraged to discover and sort out thoughts, feelings, and questions that arise in conjunction with the mediation process. Mediators may offer to role play with victims or offenders to help them understand reactions, needs, and ideas that may be evoked and to prepare them for these responses should they arise during mediation. It may be useful, in advance of the mediation session, for mediators to provide offenders with questions typically asked by victims or actual questions raised by victims in each particular case, so that the offenders can be prepared to address the needs of the victims.

Guide trainees in how to help offenders and victims determine their goals. It is helpful if the parties are directly asked to consider what they would like to occur during the mediation session. A walk-through or a role play of the session may be useful in preparing trainees to help participants establish personal goals for the mediation.

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Guidelines for Victim-Sensitive Victim-Offender Mediation:
Restorative Justice Through Dialogue
April 2000
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