Crime Seriousness and Participation in Restorative Justice: The Role of Time Elapsed Since the Offense

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Abstract

Restorative justice policies and programs aimed at facilitating victim–offender mediation (VOM) are part of many criminal justice systems around the world. Given its voluntary nature and potential for positive outcomes, the appropriateness and feasibility of VOM after serious offenses is subject to debate in the literature. In light of this discussion, this study first aimed to unravel the prevalence of serious offenses in cases registered for VOM and examined whether crime seriousness predicts whether mediated contact is reached between victims and offenders. Second, it tested the hypothesis that victims of increasingly serious, harmful crimes are more willing to participate when more time has elapsed since the offense—in contrast to victims of less serious, harmful crimes. We analyzed 199 cases registered for VOM in the Netherlands and coded the perceived wrongfulness, harmfulness, and average duration of incarceration of an offense as 3 distinct indicators of crime seriousness in these cases. The findings revealed that cases registered for VOM (a) are, in terms of the incarceration duration, on average more serious than all offenses in the population, and (b) resulted in mediated contact (or not) independently of the 3 seriousness indicators. In addition, empirical support was found for the hypothesis that victims’ willingness to participate in VOM increased over time after more harmful offenses, whereas it decreased when offenses inflicted less harm. These findings suggest that when VOM programs operate irrespectively of the time elapsed after crime, mediated contact between parties may be as likely after minor and serious offenses.

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