I’m not a huge fan of victim impact statements. These statements typically used to consist of family members taking the witness stand during the sentencing phase of a murder trial and explaining the character of the victim and what his or her loss meant to the family and the community. Now these statements more typically involve DVDs with montages of photographs showing the victim from birth until just before death, evocative music in the background from artists as varied as Enya and the Beatles, and voiceover narration from a family member. There are of course several problems with such statements, not the least of which is that they can tend to enforce the notion that some lives are more equal than others. A rich victim from a supportive family will likely have several witnesses willing and able to take the witness stand and describe how much the victim meant to them, creating a good likelihood of a lengthier sentence (or death) for the defendant. Meanwhile, the homeless victim without much of a support system likely won’t have (m)any people willing or able to take the stand and vouch for his or her character, likely resulting in a lighter sentence.
Conversely, I love the idea of restorative justice.
Restorative justice is an umbrella term for various voluntary, nonadversarial processes that try to bring together offenders, crime victims, and others to repair the material and intangible harms caused by crime. For example, victim-offender mediation induces offenders to speak with their victims face-to-faceabout their crimes. Family group conferences use trained facilitators to encourage discussions among the families of offenders and victims. Circle sentencing encourages offenders, victims, their friends and families, members of the community, and criminal justice professionals to discuss and agree upon a sentence. Community reparative boards are panels of citizens that discuss crimes with offenders and work out restitution plans. Stephanos Bibas, Transparency and Participation in Criminal Procedure, 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 911, 917 n.12 (2006).
Therefore, in theory, I should like the argument made by Kim Workman, the Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment in New Zealand. So, what’s the problem?