Victim & Survivor Rights & Services
VICTIM OFFENDER DIALOGUE


WHAT IS A VICTIM OFFENDER DIALOGUE?

Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) is a process in which the victim of a crime, or the surviving family members, and the offender who committed the offense meet face-to face in a safe and secure setting. For certain victims/survivors of severe violence and violation, the facilitated VOD process can provide a pathway to a sense of further healing and further justice. Though this may not be for every survivor, the experience of talking directly with the offender who committed the violence or violation can enable survivors to give full voice to some of the pain and trauma they have experienced. At the same time, when offenders are able to listen and respond to them, and to give voice to the complexity of feelings about what they have done, they can better understand the devastating effects of their behaviors, and how they came to be capable of such behaviors. With this increased understanding, some offenders will be better able to “account” to the survivor their choices and actions, and will begin to try and make new and purposeful meaning from their experience. The survivors who choose VOD come to feel that they have finally said what they needed to say to the offender. This in itself can be healing for them.

VOD is not about forgiveness or reconciliation – unless that is absolutely and unequivocally what the survivor wants it to be about. The primary objective is for the survivor to feel heard, and for the offender to fully understand the effects of what he or she has done.


THE PROCESS

The process is initiated solely by the request of the victim. The victim must contact the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS) to complete a formal intake with the VOD Program Coordinator. The OVSRS will then request that the institution where the offender is located conduct an initial security screen to determine the offender’s eligibility for participation. Once the case is screened and tentatively approved by the Warden and OVSRS, it will be assigned to a trained facilitator. To be truly effective, it requires a thorough and lengthy preparation process with the facilitator. This helps the survivor and the offender acknowledge and articulate some of the many painful feelings – from grief and shame to anger and outrage – that has waited to be expressed. This is a delicate and deeply personal process that cannot be hurried. The facilitator will arrange individual preparatory meetings with both the victim and offender separately to prepare them for the face to face meeting.

Participation of the survivor and the offender in the facilitated process is on a voluntary basis only. Either party has the right to put the case on hold or end the process at any time, and for any reason. To participate in the VOD, the offender must be willing and amenable to meet with the survivor. In addition, the Warden or Superintendent of the institution must approve the offender’s participation.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Does VOD have anything to do with forgiveness or reconciliation?

VOD is not about forgiveness or reconciliation – unless that is absolutely and unequivocally what the survivor wants it to be about. The primary objective is for the survivor to feel heard, and for the offender to fully understand the effects of what he or she has done.

Is VOD appropriate for every kind of violent crime, and every kind of victim?

Depending on the capacity of the offender, VOD can be appropriate for many severely violent crimes and violations – provided the approach is rigorously victim-centered. Cases of intentional and unintentional murder, attempted murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, armed robbery, and other such deeply traumatizing crimes are among the many that have been successfully facilitated. Cases in which the offender acted in severely psychopathic or sadistic ways require facilitators with special training, and may not be good candidates for VOD. CDCR is committed to protecting the physical and emotional well-being of victims/survivors and the safety of incarcerated offenders.

Does the offender receive any benefit in return for doing this?

No. There is no change in the offender’s release date or classification score or status in return for participating in the VOD preparation and dialogue process. It is a strictly voluntary and personal process, which many offenders consent to in order to “finally do something right” for the victim/survivor. The increase in their understanding of the impacts of their choices and actions is usually substantial and this is an understanding they actually yearn for.

Where does the VOD usually take place in the prison? And who is usually there?

The VOD usually takes place in a room at the prison that is private and quiet. Typically, it is a room that is away from other offender foot traffic of any kind, so that the survivor and the offender have absolute privacy from the scrutiny of other inmates. In every case security at the institution is a priority and a Correctional Officer must be able to see into the room at any time. In the room are the victim/survivor, the offender, the facilitator, and support persons for both parties.


BENEFITS OF VOD

For the victim:

  • Have the chance to explain how the crime impacted your life and express your thoughts and feelings about the incident in a safe and controlled environment.
  • Get answers to your questions about the offense that only the offender can provide.
  • Allow the offender to see you as a real person.
  • Be directly involved in how the offender is held accountable for his or her actions.

For the offender:

  • Ability to tell his or her side of the story.
  • Take responsibility for the action he or she committed.
  • Have the opportunity to make amends for what he or she did wrong.

If you would like more information about the VOD process, please contact our office at 1-877-256-6877 or by email at victimservices@cdcr.ca.gov.

Reference: http://www.justalternatives.org