The Clarke County Victim Impact Panels (VIPs) is a restorative justice program operated through the courts. The main goal of VIPs is to keep offenders convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) from drinking and driving in the future. VIPs also allow DUI victims to express their personal trauma and share their story with convicted drunk drivers. Lastly, like other restorative justice programs, VIPs work to repair the harm done by the offense, both to the victim and the offender. Thus, offenders are not specifically condemned and punished, and victims play a role in the proceedings, rather than the state stepping in for them.
This program targets offenders with a DUI conviction. Since 1994, all individuals convicted of DUI in Clarke County, Ga., have been required to attend VIPs as part of their sentence.
While other counties have VIPs, there is a great deal of variation in the implementation of the program. Clarke County VIPs are tightly monitored and scripted. Sessions are held at the county courthouse and range from 60- to 90-minutes; program participants must attend once a month. The panel consists of four to five victims of drunk driving. Each victim gives a 10- to 15-minute presentation of how a drunk driver had an impact on his or her life. Presenters range from those that simply tell their story to others who give dramatic presentations that incorporate photos, items, and memorabilia from the family members they lost due to drunk driving.
Failure to attend a session is equal to violating probation. Offenders were warned that if they missed a session, they could face a new court appearance and possible jail time. If an offender did miss a session, they were reminded of the consequences. This strict attendance policy resulted in very high attendance.
VIPs came out of the restorative justice movement, which is grounded in social control and community shaming. The focus of restorative justice is to heal those—both offender and victim—harmed by the offense rather than punish the offender for the sake of the victim. Offenders are not berated or scolded by victims during their presentation; the idea is to make them aware of the potential pain their actions can have. By forcing offenders to face the potential consequences of their actions, the belief is that they will be deterred from engaging in further drunk driving behavior.
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Re-arrest after 5 years
Rojek, Coverdill, and Fors (2003) found that after 5 years, 15.8 percent of the offenders who attended victim impact panels (VIPs) were rearrested, compared to 33.5 percent of the offenders who did not attend. Further analyses revealed that the deterrent effect of the VIPs was strongest during the first 2 years and waned in the remaining 3 years. These results are strong even when statistical controls are introduced to account for the initial differences between the groups.
Differential Impact of Effects
The researchers investigated whether VIPs might affect some individuals more than others. According to their analyses, there is no evidence that the impact of the treatment varies by age, gender, race, or prior DUI conviction. It appears that this VIP showed a significant reduction in rearrest for DUI conviction across all of these variables.