PI:  Marilyn Armour, PhD.

Dates:  1/2010 – 12/2011  Renewal: 1/2012 – 12/2013

The Open Society Institute at the Soros Foundation has awarded Dr. Marilyn Armour, Director of the Institute for Restorative Justice & Restorative Dialogue (IRJRD) at the UT School of Social Work, a two-year renewal of funding to further the implementation of Defense-Initiated Victim Outreach (DIVO) for capital cases.

Victim-survivors of capital crimes increasingly have a voice in whether prosecutors seek death sentences and thereafter offer plea bargains to capital defendants. Further, survivors’ views are routinely sought by the media and often play a significant role in pretrial publicity about capital cases. For these and related reasons, many capital defense attorneys are reconsidering their traditional detachment from victims. Defense-Initiated Victim Outreach, “DIVO,” has emerged as an effort to reduce the historic divide which blocks the ability of the defense to respond, where possible, to the needs of victim-survivors.

The DIVO initiative provides capital defense attorneys with Victim Outreach Specialists (VOS) who work on behalf of victims at the request of the defense team, serving as a conduit for victim’s interests and concerns. The use of DIVO to bridge the historic gap between survivors and the defense allows survivors to consider the full effects of capital proceedings and punishment upon themselves as well as upon the accused, and to examine potential alternatives that more directly address their needs and concerns.

Support from the Open Society Institute will enable IRJRD to advance the DIVO initiative by  making VOS available to victim-survivors in the 250 capital-eligible cases that are prosecuted annually in Texas. The goals of the OSI-funded activities are to reduce death sentences and create a model program that can be replicated and institutionalized in other jurisdictions nationwide.

IRJRD is housed in the Center for Social Work Research at the School of Social Work The University of Texas at Austin.  IRJRD seeks to build a national mindset that embraces restorative justice principles. Its mission is to advance meaningful accountability, victim healing and community safety through the use of restorative solutions to identify and repair the harm related to conflict, crime and victimization.

Sponsor:  Open Society Institute Criminal Justice Fund