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A victim impact class gives offenders a chance to examine how their behavior has affected other people. The program typically takes place in prison, but attendance at a panel or presentation is sometimes required as a condition of probation. Classes have been formed for both adults and juveniles in secure facilities and through local courts where offenders attend panel presentations. Victims of a crime are usually permitted to read a victim impact statement aloud to the offender in open court or at parole hearings.
Victim impact class usually takes place in prison or by court order after an offense, such as drunk driving. Curriculum starts with a definition of what constitutes the particular crime and presents material outlining victim reactions or the reading of impact statements. This may include videos of crime victims, handouts, or speakers. Class participants are asked to consider areas of life in which effects are felt, such as financial, physical, and spiritual. They must consider what their own feelings would be in similar circumstances.
Incarcerated offenders as well as speakers are carefully screened for inclusion in the victim impact class program. Every effort is made not to exacerbate victims' trauma or cause trouble in a facility because emotions may run high at some of the presentations. Offenders may have the opportunity to ask questions of a speaker and have assigned homework. At the end of the class or upon receipt of an assigned essay, they will receive an official certificate of completion. Juvenile programs are similar to those for adults but may not be as intensive.
People who wish to tell their stories at a victim impact class or panel can contact their local victim services group. They will probably be asked to complete a questionnaire and a screening interview with the facilitator of the program to assess their presentation. Applicants should be open to helping offenders understand the effects of their crimes. Unresolved anger or blame that could make them defensive will negate the purpose of the class. Speakers have reported that the presentations helped them achieve closure, and offenders say they acquire some perspective.
Victim impact statements are a right of the victim of a crime in jurisdictions that permit them. They usually take place toward the end of the judicial process or at a parole hearing for eligible offenders. In cases where the crime has resulted in death, the right to make a statement is extended to family members of the crime victim. The offender may still be encouraged or required to take a victim impact class while in prison or on probation despite hearing a statement read in court.
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