Virginia's Judicial System

ADR Resource Corner

Book Review: THE HANDBOOK OF VICTIM OFFENDER MEDIATION by Mark S. Umbreit; Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2001; 425 pages. JUSTICE THAT RESTORES by Charles Colson; Tyndale House, Wheaton, IL, 2001, 172 pages.

Late last year, two new books were added to the growing collection of literature on mediation within the criminal justice system. The latest work by Mark Umbreit is comprehensive and easy to read and use. It may be the most valuable book on the shelf in some community mediation centers and court service units. Umbreit, most certainly the foremost leader in the field of restorative justice (RJ) in the last decade, begins his handbook with a brief history and overview. He makes proper mention of the seminal 1997 Restoring Justice book (Anderson Publishing) by Karen Strong and Dan Van Ness, but does not rely heavily on this equally valuable work. Charles Colson, of Watergate and Prison Fellowship fame, tells readers the flaws in the North American justice system and finally gets to the topic of restorative justice in the final pages of his short 2001 book.

Umbreit and his contributors note the American Bar Association endorsement of Restorative Justice programs and document the history of RJ in Canada, England and the United States. Using a chart format, they show that Germany has more active victim offender mediation (VOM) programs than other nations. They do a good job of showing how traditional mediation differs from victim offender mediation. The differences between settlement-driven mediation and transformative mediation styles are shown in a very readable fashion. They provide an interesting walk through the field of RJ from the early days, just a decade ago, to the current time. Program design is shared in the later chapters and training ideas are also provided in an appendix.

The programs in Vermont, Minnesota and a few other states got more attention than those in Virginia; but Eastern Mennonite University professor Howard Zehr was given proper credit for his continuing leadership in the development of well-grounded RJ models. The fact that Karen Strong and Dan Van Ness have Virginia roots was only a minor omission. The list of programs by state is clearly outdated. Virginia has far more RJ or VOM programs than noted, and some of the programs noted in Virginia may not even exist.

In the past few years, the Supreme Court's Department of Dispute Resolution Services has assisted community mediation centers and juvenile court service units (CSU's) with the establishment of RJ programs. The large programs in Norfolk, Harrisonburg, and Prince William County were not mentioned in the list of Virginia programs. The web site link to the University of Minnesota, National Center for Restorative Justice, ( is impressive, but it does not provide the promised update on program locations for the United States. This 2001 book and the other works by Umbreit and his colleagues need to be read by all victim offender mediators and court staff. The 1997 Strong and Van Ness book, while more academic and technical, is also worthy of being added to your bookshelf.

The secular handbook offered by Mark Umbreit does appropriately make mention of the strong faith-based foundation for many of our RJ and VOM programs. Colson offers the reader an interesting commentary on penal reform and jurisprudence. His subtitle is "why our justice system doesn't work and the only method of true reform." He encourages readers and voters to apply RJ principles in all areas of criminal justice reform. He, like Umbreit, shares personal stories of lives being changed through a mediation process. Colson supports restitution, victim involvement, victim rights, and offender accountability.

Virginia is mentioned in the first pages of both books. On page 3 of Justice that Restores, an Annandale, Virginia criminal case is used as his first example of crisis in our society. The growth in our prison populations and the continual building of more and more prisons serve as examples of our crisis. Toward the middle of the book, Colson offers interesting examples of prevention programs that can be found in several juvenile courts and communities in Dallas, Charleston, San Diego, Hartford, and New York.

The more than 500 victim offender mediation programs that Mark Umbreit writes about serves as the RJ component used to conclude the book. Colson offers a very broad view of the RJ field. Umbreit offers a very focused and in-depth view of the mediation process and programs associated with the RJ field. Both books have merit and are worthy of the attention of Virginia mediators.

[Eric Assur is a certified general and family mediator as well as a mentor. He serves as Student Activities Director for Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax County.]

This page last modified: December 9, 2002