Section 5: Building Partnerships
It is essential to build partnerships with agencies and individuals that serve crime victims in your community. Make contact with organizations in your area, introduce yourself, and let them know that you would like to work with them to meet the needs of victims of crime.
In your community, there are likely victim advocates available to support you and the victims you serve. There are many different types of advocates, but in general, they can be divided into two categories: systems-based and community-based advocates.
Systems-based victim advocates
Systems-based victim advocates (also called victim assistants, victim/witness advocates, etc.) are those whose base of operation and services occur within the context of a criminal or juvenile justice agency.
Systems-based advocates may be found within:
- Prosecutor’s offices
- Law enforcement agencies
- Institutional Corrections (prisons)
- Community Corrections (probation and parole)
- State attorney’s general offices
- Victim Compensation Programs
Although the roles of systems-based advocates vary, in general their focus is on supporting victims through the criminal justice system, providing information, education, and notification about what is occurring with their case, and ensure that their rights are upheld. It is important to remember that systems-based advocates have limited confidentiality. Part of the role of a systems-based victim advocate is to ensure that the victim understands what communications can and cannot remain confidential.
Community-based victim advocates
Community-based advocates are victim service providers whose base of operation and services occur within the context of a private, non-governmental organization. They provide comprehensive advocacy services to victims regardless of whether or not they are involved in a criminal justice process.
Community-based advocates may be found within:
- Sexual assault programs
- Domestic violence programs
- Children’s advocacy centers and other child abuse prevention programs
- Elder abuse programs
- Homicide survivors’ support groups
- Faith-based victim assistance programs
- Other advocacy organizations
Community-based victim advocates provide a wide range of options for support, including 24/7 hotlines, individualized counseling, support groups, crisis intervention, emergency and transitional housing, safety planning, court accompaniment, civil-legal advocacy services, referral to additional services and much more.Most community-based advocacy programs have statutory protections that provide complete confidentiality in their communications with victims.
Any victim of crime can seek help from a community-based victim advocacy organization, no matter how long ago the incident occurred or whether there has ever been any legal process involved. Given that many people under correctional supervision have their own experiences with victimizations, they may also find these resources useful.
Some advocacy and victim organizations would be willing to partner with community corrections to strengthen the community response to crimes, increase accountability, and provide supportive services to victims. Below are some recommended practices that can help build relationships with community organizations.
- Cross-train probation and parole officers and their staff.
- Join community-based task forces or working groups that address cross-system and cross-jurisdictional issues related to the community’s response to violence and abuse.
- Join multidisciplinary collaborations designed to produce more effective pre-trial, jail-based, diversion, community supervision, and reentry polices.
- Share information and printed materials about your services with your local community advocacy programs and display their information in your office as well.
Restorative Justice Programs
Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims, individuals who commit crimes and the community. Victims take a central and active role in any restorative justice process while those who have committed crimes, are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions.
The key principles of restorative justice are:
- Crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm.
- The people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution.
- The responsibility of the government is to maintain order and the responsibility of the community is to build peace.
Restorative justice programs are available in many parts of the country and victims may choose to take part in these initiatives if they know about them. As a PPO, you have an opportunity to learn about these programs and partner with them. Some victims may want to participate in restorative justice programs such as a facilitated victim/offender dialogue and/or a victim impact panel while others may not. Remember, restorative justice initiatives are victim-driven and victim-centered. Victims should always take the lead on their involvement!
Reviewing options with victims is a good place to start. Below are listed a few common practices that may be available in your community.
Victim Impact Panels
Victim Impact Panels (VIP), also known as Victim Awareness Classes, provide an opportunity for victims to describe the impact that crime has had on their lives to groups of people who are incarcerated or under community supervision. This provides a space for victims to tell their stories, which victims have reported can be healing and empowering. It also provides a means for individuals who have committed crimes to hear of the physical, financial, and emotional impact of what they have done.
Victim-Offender Dialogue (VOD)
"If the victims presenting in a VIP are okay with it, ask if you and your colleagues can occasionally attend a presentation. Directly hearing the stories of survivors reminds us (PPOs) of one of the reason we do this work."
Many jurisdictions have laws that govern the ability for victims to communicate directly with the sentenced individuals. In some areas this kind of direct communication is available through restorative justice programs such as the Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD).
The VOD process can only be initiated at the request of the victim, and participation by both is voluntary. Either party may withdraw from the VOD process at any time. Participation in the VOD program is not expected to affect an individual’s prison, parole, or community supervision status. Through VOD, the victim may receive answers to questions, which may facilitate his/her healing and recovery. It provides individuals who have committed crimes the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions and be held accountable for the pain and suffering those actions have caused.
This VOD process can often be beneficial to victims of crime because it can provide answers to questions that only the person who committed the crime could answer and victims can express the impact that the crime has had on them, their family members, and the community. Such programs, if they exist in your jurisdiction, can provide some healing for victims and give individuals an opportunity to admit guilt, take responsibility, and express remorse.
If the victim wishes to be involved in a dialogue with the person who committed the crime, you should refer them to a dialogue program if it is available in your jurisdiction. It is important to be sure that the victim has initiated this process. Victims must never be pressured into participating in a dialogue process. You can let them know the option is available and who to contact if they are interested.
For more information on VOD visit:
- 20 Principles of Victim-Centered Victim Offender Dialogue , endorsed by the National Association of Victim Service Professionals in Corrections.
- Just Alternatives
Apology Letter Banks
Letter banks are a form of restorative justice that allows individuals who are incarcerated to write letters of apology to the victim of their crime. Since contact between the victim and offender is frequently forbidden and considered a rule violation, the letter is usually held in an apology letter bank. Letters accepted into the letter bank remain there until the victims choose to receive them. There is no guarantee that the victim will ever request to receive the letter and it should not be factored into a parole review.
Restorative Community Service/Community Restitution
Restorative community service can be ordered by the court as part of supervision to hold people accountable for their actions and to pay back the community in some way for the harm that is caused by crime. Often, victims are able to provide input into the type of service that is performed and in some jurisdictions, it is being utilized to directly benefit organizations that provide services and support to victims of crime.
 Centre for Justice & Reconciliation (2016). Lesson 1: What Is Restorative Justice? Reproductive Justice Tutorial. Prison Fellowship International. http://restorativejustice.org/, accessed July 28, 2016.