1) Who can take part in VOE sessions?
Anyone who is still suffering from the consequences of a past criminal act can participate in our sessions. Individuals may be primary or secondary victims or offenders who have served their sentences, are serving their sentences in the community, are on parole, or are in prison.Some VOE sessions bring together incest victims and pedophiles. Others are open to victims of other crimes (sexual aggression, theft, fraud, etc.) and offenders who committed similar crimes.
In addition to four offenders and four victims, two facilitators and two community representatives are present at each session. All of them are volunteers.
The role of facilitators is essentially to lead discussions and to ensure the exchange runs smoothly in a safe and respectful environment.
As for the community representatives, they are witnesses to the process but they may also contribute as citizens to the exchanges between the various parties.
2) What do VOE sessions consist of?
VOE sessions consist of a series of 5 to 7 weekly, 3-hour sessions. Each session addresses a new topic that participants are asked to discuss or begins with testimony from a member of the group.An at-home activity will be given to group members at each session. This activity is geared at preparing participants for the following week’s session.
3) What are the requirements for participating in these sessions?
In addition to agreeing to respect the anonymity of group members and the confidentiality of discussions, participants must enroll freely and of their own will with clearly identified and realistic goals as well as with the sincere desire to take part in the series of sessions.It is important for participants to understand and express the consequences of crime in their life. Offenders must admit their guilt, be capable of empathy and show a desire to change their wrongful behavior.
Participants also need an outside support system (friend, family, support group or fellowship like AA, etc.) and, if possible, therapeutic support that ideally is pre-established, regular, and accessible throughout the process. If this is not the case, the CSJR will advise individuals on how to get therapy.
4) What type of support does the CSJR offer during the sessions?
Facilitators are available for participants between sessions in order to give them support when needed throughout the VOE process. They reserve the right to contact individuals who are struggling and will refer them to a competent resource person.
5) What are the dangers of participating in VOE sessions?
Some argue that restorative justice may revictimize the victim, also known as secondary victimization. Experience shows us that this is not the case. Emotions like anger can in fact resurface during testimony. However, in reality, this potentially painful passage brings liberation.The CSJR has put in place a rigorous selection process. Individual interviews determine whether an individual who would like to take part in VOE sessions meets participation requirements, has the necessary tools to face this kind of situation, and does not have psychological conditions that could bring the person harm during or after the sessions.
At the end of each session, participants get into two groups, (victims in one, offenders on the other) to give feedback on the session and to share what they could not or did not want to say during the session so as to leave with a clear conscience. Both facilitators are duly trained, and at least one of them has a professionally recognized experience in counselling or psychotherapy.
6) How does completing VOE sessions benefit participants?
From 2005 to 2008, the Correctional Service of Canada commissioned studies from the CSJR on VOE sessions’ impact on participants.These studies showed notably that a large majority of victims observed a decline in the negative emotions and hatred felt toward their offender(s) since the crime took place. For an equally large majority, victims indicated that VOE sessions helped them put an end to their victimization.
For offenders, most participants stated that VOE sessions helped them understand the aftermath of crime for victims, and because of this, understand the harm they did to their own victim. A large majority of those surveyed maintained that taking part in VOE sessions helped them to not reoffend.
Finally, both victims and offenders said they would recommend VOE sessions to other individuals in a situation similar to their own.
7) Do offenders benefit from taking part in VOE sessions, such as through a reduction in their sentence or eligibility for early parole?
No. It is of the utmost importance for the CSJR that offenders stand to gain nothing by participating in VOE sessions. This program does not lead to early release from prison.
8) Is this service free?
There is currently no charge for this service. The CSJR handles the costs incurred by this program.
9) Where do VOE sessions take place?
VOE sessions take place in the greater Montreal region in the community or in prisons.When VOE sessions are held within the community, they take place on the CSJR premises. Offenders taking part in the sessions are serving their sentences within the community (halfway house) or have completed their sentences. Some sessions took place in Repentigny with the members of the Parents Unis organization.
When VOE sessions are held in prisons, offenders taking part in the sessions are current residents of the institution where the sessions take place. Since the CSJR was founded, VOE sessions have been held in the following places: Archambault Institution, Leclerc Institution, Montée St-François Institution, and the Federal Training Centre.
10) Do VOE sessions have a religious affiliation?
The CSJR is not a religious organization, but it recognizes people as holistic beings. If participating individuals would like to talk about the importance of their spirituality or of their faith in the healing process, they are respectfully welcomed to do so. Facilitators, for their part, adopt a neutral position. Forgiveness, understood in a religious or secular sense, is not the end goal of VOE sessions, but some participants see it as the final step to liberation.In some institutional facilities, the chaplain collects requests to take part in VOE sessions from inmates and may participate in sessions as an observer. No preference is given when choosing people based on religion.