Going back to the days when Probation Officers wore dual hats as Divorce Court Welfare officers, they have been involved in processes variously termed mediation, reparation and conciliation. Nowadays, within the Criminal Justice System, the broad philosophical aims behind these titles has become generally known as 'Restorative Justice.'
It is the process by which victim and perpetrator are able to meet in a carefully controlled manner. In the case of the victim, it affords the opportunity to meet the individual responsible for the crime and to learn about them and their motivation and for the offender the opportunity to meet the victim, understand the effect their behaviour has had and take responsibility for their actions. Unlike the court hearing, which necessarily focusses on the offender, this meeting seeks to 'personalise' a criminal act by the involvement of the victim in a process that is designed to be therapeutic and healing for both parties.
The aim is that the victim will be assisted in coming to terms with the anger and grief associated with the effects of the offence and for the perpetrator to understand the distress and harm caused by their actions. Each assists the other in the jointly shared aspiration of creating no further victims. It is a process that requires careful preparation and mediation by skilled practitioners and may prove unsuitable in many cases.
It should go without saying that it has to be felt appropriate for both parties and that the victim does not feel in any way 'pressurised' to take part. Of course it's equally important to assess the motivation of the offender and it's in this regard that the process is derided in certain quarters. All I can say is that Probation staff are well used to making such judgement calls and are fully aware of the possible pitfalls in what is undoubtedly a process not without risk, but the possible benefits are considerable. This recent article from the Guardian describes a typical restorative justice process.
So far opportunities for victims to interact with offenders is limited, not least due to the cost of such initiatives, but Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has signalled his support and it's widely understood that the forthcoming sentencing reform bill will contain measures to fund an increase in provision. This is certainly good news in my view.