Different restorative justice programs attempt to include the community in varying degrees. It is widely acknowledged in the literature that society must take responsibility for crime. Communities have an obligation to correct social factors that contribute to crime and to allow offenders to rehabilitate and reintegrate back into the community. In order to do so, the public must be aware of the facts about crime, its causes and outcomes. Finally, the needs of the community must be addressed during dispute resolution. Considering that crimes occur in the community, it is essential that the community also assume responsibility for the act and be involved in the conflict resolution process. Furthermore, if it is appropriate for the community to receive reparation, then that must be discussed.
A great number of programs based on restorative justice principles have emerged over the past several decades. Each program has acknowledged that our current criminal justice system is ill equipped to conduct dispute resolution and achieve an outcome that is mutually beneficial to the victim, offender, and the community.
Victim-Offender Reconciliation programs (VORP) offer an alternative to the formalized criminal justice system in that they are designed to improve conflict resolution, to provide material reparation to victims, to prevent recidivism and to offer a speedier and less costly alternative (Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994). Arrangements are made where the victim and offender are brought together. Both participants are given the opportunity to state the facts from their point of view, then they are allowed to voice their opinions and emotions regarding the event. Once the release of emotions is complete, a verbal agreement is worked out regarding reparation. Once a restitution contract has been negotiated, there is a period of evaluation and follow-up to determine if restitution has been made. Several studies indicate that both victims and offenders are generally willing to partake in such programs (Galaway, 1994, Reeves, 1989).
In terms of success, Umbreit and Coates (1992, p. 2) indicate that high levels of client satisfaction (victims, 79%; offenders, 87%) and perceptions of justice (victims, 83%; offenders, 89%) were attained through the mediation process. Given the potential of these programs to relieve the congestion of the formal justice system while at the same time effecting positive and acceptable resolutions, VORPs deserve attention.
The John Howard Society has taken action to promote heightened public awareness of the need for alternatives by publicizing the benefits of alternatives, involving communities and community groups in the establishment of alternative programs, educating politicians and policy makers of the necessity for legislating use of alternatives, and educating the public about community responsibility for crime and its causes.
As previously mentioned, communities have a responsibility and an obligation to correct social factors that contribute to crime and to allow offenders to rehabilitate and rejoin society. In order to do so, the public must be aware of crimes, their cause and their outcomes. Studies consistently show, however, that the public has limited access to and knowledge of the operation of the criminal justice system. The consequences of limited access to accurate information are that the public often become overly anxious and unnecessarily fearful as to the nature of criminal activity and this fear tends to generate stereotypes of the criminal and the victim. Furthermore, studies reveal that what little knowledge the public does receive derives from the media that focuses predominately on sensational criminal events.