Sometimes victims request to meet with an offender and participate in a facilitated Victim Offender Dialogue process. Although this happens very rarely, the Mississippi Department of Corrections (DOC) has implemented procedures to accommodate such requests when ever possible. These dialogues only receive consideration if they are at the request of the victim. An offender cannot initiate a dialogue.
What is Victim Offender Dialogue?
VOD is a process in which the victim of a crime, or surviving family member/s, and the offender who committed the offense, meet face-to-face in a safe and structured setting with a trained facilitator present. There is extensive preparation for all parties involved before meeting face-to-face. If meeting face-to-face is not preferred, there are a number of other options for communication as well. The focus is on the harm done to the victim and the offender’s responsibility in the reparation of that harm.
Why would a victim want to meet with an offender?
Historically victims of crime have been left out of the justice process and were not afforded the same rights as offenders in their cases. There are many reasons a victim might have an interest in meeting with the person who harmed them or their loved one. They often have questions only an offender can answer. Questions like, “What actually happened?” “Why did you choose me?”, “What were my loved one’s last words?” Victims may want to tell the offender about how their lives have been affected by the offender’s criminal behavior and how they feel about the crime. Victims often want to know about the offender’s life inside the institution or what kind of person they are.
Why would an offender want to meet with a victim?
Offenders may want the opportunity to apologize to the victims and to express remorse for their actions. Answering questions is one way the offender can attempt to make amends to victims. When an offender looks into the eyes of the person(s) they’ve harmed, they often feel true remorse and can begin to turn their own lives around
How does it work?
All dialogues are victim initiated; offenders cannot initiate dialogue. Victims may request a VOD by contacting the Restorative Justice Planner at the MDOC Division of Victim Services. The Planner will then begin the initial assessment phase by contacting the offender’s Case Manager or Unit Chaplain to assess the offender’s capacity and willingness to take part in a VOD. Next the offender will be contacted directly to discuss the VOD process and their interest in the VOD process. Offenders voluntarily agree to participate in the process.
If all parties are agreeable, the case will be assigned to a trained VOD Facilitator.
The Facilitator will then begin the preparation phase by meeting with the victim and offender separately over several weeks or months. A support person may also participate. Dialogue preparation can take anywhere from several weeks to years before an actual meeting takes place. Because victim/offender dialogue is not for everyone, each case is carefully reviewed by the Division of Victim Services staff.
Once the preparation phase has been successfully completed, and all necessary arrangements made, the parties will meet face to face at a correctional facility.
We do not conduct dialogues involving domestic violence, child sexual abuse cases or cases in which the offender is on death row.
In no instances will a minor be allowed to participate in a dialogue.
The victim/offender dialogue process cannot be used by offenders in an attempt to obtain an early release from prison or supervision.
If you are a victim and interested in the Victim/Offender Dialogue process:
Contact the Mississippi Department of Corrections – Division of Victim Services
633 North State Street
Jackson, MS 39202.3097
1.866.522.4087 (toll free)
You will be asked to provide background information about your interest in dialogue. Keep in mind that determination of the appropriateness of a dialogue is at the discretion of the Division of Victim Services and the superintendent where the offender is located.
The victim/offender dialogue program cannot be utilized to circumvent the department’s policy limiting visitation between victims and their offenders.
Apology Letter Bank
Apology Letter – Sometimes offenders who are incarcerated write victims letters of apology. The Mississippi Department of Corrections (DOC) has implemented a policy which forbids offenders from ever sending those letters to the victim/s directly or through a third party. If a victim is interested in receiving an apology letter from the offender in their case, they can request to be notified if/when the offender submits a letter to the Apology Letter Bank.
Apology Letters often seek to communicate acknowledgement of fault, injury, responsibility, insult and/or pain caused. It is offered by an offender to victims and relates to a specific incident. The letter will not offer excuses or request forgiveness or pardon.
- The Department of Corrections attempts to make sure that apology letters are never sent directly to victims, victim’s families or victim advocates.
- Either the victim or offender may initiate the apology letter process.
- Victim shall determine:
- If and when the apology letter will be accepted
- whether or not the offender is informed that the victim requested, received and/or has read the apology letter
- All apology letters will be reviewed by designated letter screeners at each facility, by the Restorative Justice Planner and also by the Victim Services Coordinator
- Victims may, at the time of engaging with the apology letter process or at a subsequent time, request other restorative services provided by the Mississippi Department of Corrections such as Victim Offender Dialogue, opportunities for victim involvement in offender programming or victim services referrals.
- Involvement in the Apology Letter Process will not affect offender’s release date or other conditions of incarceration.
- Victims will be provided the opportunity to request to be notified by the Mississippi Department of Corrections – Victim Assistance Program when an apology letter has been submitted by an offender in the name of the victim. This request is made by the victim checking the Apology Letter Notification Request Box in Mississippi Choice.
- When a completed apology letter has been deposited in the Apology Letter Bank addressed to a victim who has requested to be notified of such a letter, Victim Assistance Program will contact the victim to verify their interest in receiving the letter. Once confirmed, the sealed apology letter will be mailed to the victim in an envelope with a cover letter identifying the content of enclosed sealed envelope.
- Future contact between the victim/s and the offender should be made via the Victim Assistance Program.