Offender Accountability Liaison work is intended to encourage offenders convicted of crimes of severe violence and violation (crimes that severely traumatize the victims/survivors) to confront and reflect upon their own accountability in an emotionally safe context. This is the opposite of the kind of thinking that enables offenders to explain their criminal choices with a conveniently aphoristic deflection like, “Hurt People Hurt People.” It explains nothing, while seeming almost to excuse criminal choices. Offender Accountability Liaison work begins with discussions of the victim experience, trauma and post-trauma, and the widely varying and devastating impacts of violence and violation upon the victims. The underlying objective of this work is to help offenders recognize and understand aspects of the experiences of their victims and survivors. This is not what they are accustomed to doing in the correctional context. But how can they possibly change their thinking, choices, and behaviors if they do not understand the true impacts of those choices and behaviors?
Failing to address head-on what offenders have done can only increase the possibility that they could do it again.
Current corrections practice often holds that the underlying reasons behind an offender’s incarceration remain essentially unknown and unaddressed by both security and educational staff. There are many good reasons for this. But what is needed in offenders is nothing less than a transformed awareness, which they are usually ill-equipped to bring about in themselves. Most offenders who are dealing — or not — with denial, shame, and guilt around their sometimes horrific crimes — or the shame and guilt of simply being incarcerated — require a revised sense of how and where they could “fit” in a pro-social world. Failing to address head-on why they have done what they have done can only increase the possibility that they could do it again.
This is where personal accountability matters. Not the same as the “institutional” accountability conferred upon inmates who are simply serving out their sentences, personal accountability requires an examination of the truth and consequences of their actions, and explores ways of moving forward without denial and disassociation. “Institutional” accountability is merely punishment, with varying hope for rehabilitation; it is not the “personal” accountability that victims, survivors, and our society needs and deserves.
Offender Liaison work conducted with sensitivity can help offenders enter that territory of personal accountability, intentionally engaging them in the question of who they have hurt — and how — so that they may successfully pursue answers to such questions as “Who am I, and how do I express my remorse, and how do I make meaning from what I have done?” It is only through examining these questions and their deeper implications that offenders can truly understand how to re-enter society — whether in prison or post-release — as productive, law-abiding, and “acceptable” citizens, committed to the goal of No More Victims.