The formal criminal justice system is based on a retributive approach to criminal justice. Crime is perceived as an act against the state, leaving the individual victims neglected and ignored and the offenders incarcerated and unable to make direct amends. The victim's needs for restitution, answers, an emotional outlet and the restoration of power and autonomy are left unattended. By not meeting their needs, victims are left "with feelings of fear, distrust, guilt, shame, anger and vulnerability" (Zehr & Umbreit, 1982).
The restorative justice approach to criminal justice aims to provide for the needs of the offender and the victim. Restorative justice sees crime as a conflict between individuals. The focus of restorative justice is on compensation to the victim for any material or psychological loss, "problem-solving for the future, allowing time for information and emotional needs to be addressed and a mutually agreeable restitution to be determined" (Severson & Bankston, 1995). The goals of the restorative justice approach include reconciliation, rehabilitation, crime prevention, accountability and restitution.
Victim-offender reconciliation programs are based on the restorative justice model, and are community mediated victim-offender conflict resolutions designed to be fair to both the victim and the offender. VORPs are an alternative to the formal criminal justice system, designed to improve conflict resolution, provide material reparations to victims, prevent recidivism and offer a speedier and less costly alternative to formal processes.
Negotiation leaves both parties satisfied with the results; the result is a mutually satisfactory solution. The victim and offender work together to find a solution, leaving the victim, the offender and the community with the feeling that justice has been served and that life will return to normal.
There are four main providers of victim-offender reconciliation programs: church-related programs, community-based criminal justice agencies, probation-based agencies and dispute settlement centres (Umbreit, 1995). Church-related programs are directly sponsored and largely funded by various churches, or those which are free-standing and community based but are primarily funded by church members and organizations. Community-based criminal justice agencies are the largest provider of VORP. They are run by non-profit agencies that work within the criminal justice system. Probation- based programs initially began with probation officers as mediators, but since they were not a neutral third party, these programs turned to trained volunteers to be mediators. Dispute settlement centres are established community dispute settlement centres that simply extend their services to victim- offender mediation.