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Family Group Conferencing

FGC involves the community of people most affected by the crime—the victim and the offender and the family, friends, and key supporters of both—in deciding the resolution of a criminal or delinquent act. The facilitator contacts the victim and offender to explain the process and invite them to the conference; the facilitator also asks them to identify key members of their support systems who will be invited to participate as well. Participation by all involved is voluntary. The offender must admit to the offense to participate. The parties affected are brought together by a trained facilitator to discuss how they and others have been harmed by the offense and how that harm might be repaired.

The conference typically begins with the offender describing the incident, followed by each participant describing the impact of the incident on his or her life. Through these narrations, the offender is faced with the human impact of his or her behavior on the victim, on those close to the victim, and on the offender's own family and friends. The victim has the opportunity to express feelings and ask questions about the offense. After a thorough discussion of the impact of the offense on those present, the victim is asked to identify desired outcomes from the conference and thus helps to shape the obligations that will be placed on the offender. All participants may contribute to the process of determining how the offender might best repair the harm he or she has caused. The session ends with participants signing an agreement outlining their expectations and commitments.

FGC is intuitively appealing to most restorative justice advocates in North America. The mediation process, which involves a wide range of people affected by the crime, appears to expand the rich 20-year history of VOM. FGC primarily works with juvenile offenders and uses police or probation officers or school officials, rather than trained volunteers, as facilitators.

Despite its appeal, a number of unresolved issues and potential dangers remain in adapting the FGC model to North American justice systems with their strong commitment to retributive, offender-driven principles. The purpose of this overview is to encourage a serious discussion of the opportunities and potential pitfalls presented by the FGC process, particularly from the perspective of its impact on crime victims.

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Family Group Conferencing: Implications for Crime Victims April 2000
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