Candidate: Patrick M. Gerkin
Degree of: Doctor of Philosophy
Abstract: This dissertation is a case study investigation of a victim-offender mediation program in a mid-western state. Victim-offender mediation is one form of a much greater movement currently emerging within the criminal justice system known as restorative justice. The focus of this dissertation is to examine the connections between theory and practice with regards to mediation as a form of restorative justice.
This research fills a void in the restorative justice literature. It offers findings based on empirical research about the issues that are central to restorative justice theory and practice. There is a wealth of theory claiming that restorative justice can deliver a peaceful justice that makes the situation right while empowering the participants, meeting their needs, taking steps towards reintegration, and establishing awareness between the participants about the reality of the other. These claims have been rarely evaluated although they represent the driving theoretical force behind the restorative justice movement. The data for this dissertation were collected through observations of the mediation process, a post-mediation survey for both victims and offenders, post-mediation interviews with participants, and analysis of the agreements produced in the mediation.
The findings produced herein represent the amalgamation of all of this data. These findings identify both successes and failures with regard to the ability of these mediations to deliver the restorative vision of justice. My findings indicate relative success in the mediations observed about the ability of restorative justice to make the situation right without creating further harm for the participants, to identify and address needs of victims, to foster recognition for victims, and to empower the victims. There was much less success in these mediations regarding the involvement of both the micro and macro communities from which victims and offenders emerge and consequently about the notion of reintegration. Similarly, I found that although the input of victims was solicited throughout the mediations, the role of offenders was much more limited. Consequently, the potential for offenders to be empowered or to have their needs identified or met by the mediation was reduced.
Several findings emerged within this research as well, including the impact of power dynamics in the process of mediation and the general lack of awareness about the restorative vision of justice demonstrated by victims and offenders who participated, both of which have implications for their participation and consequently the outcomes of restorative practices.
A discussion of the findings presented, the implications of these findings for practitioners of restorative justice, the limitations of this research and suggestions for the direction of future research regarding restorative justice are presented.
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