A victim panel is a gathering in which victims of a certain crime tell offenders how that crime has affected their lives. The goal of such a panel is usually stated to be rehabilitation for the offenders, but it is also often a chance for people to experience release from victimization. Often, these panels are not composed of victims of the offenders being spoken to, but rather victims of the same crime. When a victim and offender meet for therapeutic purposes, this is usually a different and more individual type of rehabilitative procedure. Although a victim panel can be effective in some cases, exact statistics gauging how the victims and offenders were affected are not available.
In many cases, a victim panel is simply a gathering in which many different victims speak about the impact of the crime in question on their lives. As such, the gathering is sometimes called a victim impact panel. Victims usually take turns speaking, and offenders often do not get to participate except by listening.
Sometimes, a court will require that an offender attend a victim panel as part of his or her sentence. Victim participation is always voluntary, and victims usually sign up through the office that organizes these panels. Offenders must often pay a fee in order to participate in the course, as must people who are simply interested in what the panelists have to say. Sometimes, a similar meeting may involve more participation from both sides in order to mend emotional wounds. Different psychological philosophies advocate different strategies.
Usually, the goal of a victim panel is to educate criminals about the consequences of their actions. In cases where the consequences are obvious, like murder and other individual violent crimes, victims usually do not feel the need to tell the offenders about the effects of their actions. For crimes like drunk driving or gang violence, where the criminals often minimize the effects, victims often feel the need to emphasize what it is like to be affected by the crime in question. In these cases, particularly when the criminal is not otherwise known to participate in illegal activities, a victim panel can lead to major changes in the offender's life.
Whether or not victim panels are effective is largely a matter of opinion, but in certain anecdotal cases it is claimed that they are responsible for major changes in behavior. Victims also often feel that they are effective because being heard as a victim is a good way to obtain closure. In general, most people believe that victim impact panels do more good than harm, although they may not be as good at stopping crime as some people claim.