IRJRD at UT Research Projects


Bridges to Life
Victim Offender Mediation/Dialogue
Impact of the Ultimate Penal Sanction
Interventions and Understanding – Family of Homicide Victims


Bridges to Life

Bridges to Life is faith-based in-prison program based on the principles of restorative justice with two main goals:

  • to reduce recidivism rates of program graduates.
  • to facilitate the healing process for both victims and offenders.

Over 7000 offenders have completed Bridges to Life and 3,079 released inmates are currently in a recidivism study.  Only 542 (17.6%) have returned to the system and only 34 (1.1%) have returned for violent crimes. IRJ&RD has conducted three studies of Bridges to Life.

x0022Bridges to Life: Evaluation of an In-Prison Restorative Justice Program

A thematic analysis of participant responses to a nine-item BTL assessment survey found themes that clustered in five areas:

1. “Impact” which referred to victim stories and inmate’s acknowledgment that they had never considered that their criminal acts had hurt others.

2. “Caring” which referred to the acceptance they felt from victims which conveyed they were not alone and were worth something.

3. “Self knowledge” which referred to self realizations and self accountability including the recognition of their self-centeredness, the need to stop denying their impact or blaming others, and the need to be self scrutinizing.

4. Wanting more” which referred to the desire for more time.

5. Transformation which referred to the quality of the change they experienced and described variously as a spiritual awakening, self forgiveness, feeling released from the past, and a ‘new me’ who is resolved not to hurt others.

These findings indicate that participants have a strong positive response to BTL and that BTL fosters a capacity for other-oriented empathy and guilt proneness (my behavior is bad but I am worthwhile).

Armour, M.P., Sage, J., Rubin, A. & Windsor, L. (2005). Bridges to Life: Evaluation of an In-Prison Restorative Justice Intervention. Medicine & Law 24(4), 831-851.


A Pilot Study of a Faith-Based Restorative Justice Intervention for Christian and Non-Christian Offenders

Faith-based and restorative justice programs show promise in influencing offenders’ internal motivations and external behaviors.  Using a one-group, pretest-posttest design, this pilot study of Restoring Peace (a modification of the BTL program) found significant change in offenders’ moral motivations (empathy, perspective taking, forgiveness, proneness to forgive, daily spiritual experiences, and relationships with others) after their self-selected participation in a 14-week faith-based program that draws from the principles of restorative justice.  Hierarchical regression models were used to examine the impact of reported subscription to Christianity on pretests and score changes.  At pre-test, Christian participants were more likely to forgive than non-Christian participants who conversely were more likely to see the perspectives of others.  Christian offenders had significantly higher change scores on perspective taking and empathic concern than non-Christian participants.  Findings have implications for the use of faith-based programs and victim-centered  curriculums to change offenders’ moral motivations and for matching faith-based Christian programs with Christian participants.

Armour, M.P, Windsor, L., Aguilar, J. & Taub, C. (2008).  A Pilot Study of a Faith-Based Intervention for Offenders. Psychology and Christianity 27(2), 159-167.

27a1159Mechanisms of Action in Bridges to Life

This mixed methods study examines change in offender participants’ self-concept and social identity, which is theorized to lead to increased motivation and behavior change. The study aims to identify the active components in the structure and process of the BTL intervention that influence offender participants’s change in self-concept.   The sample consists of all BTL participants in two of the 6-8 small groups that comprise a BTL project.  Participants for each group include six offenders, two crime victims, and a community facilitator .   Each group is co-facilitated by a research assistant who attends all twelve sessions and functions as both a group participant and an observer.  Qualitative methods include participant observation and interviews with victim and offender participants at pre, during and post the intervention.  Quantitative methods include measures of group process, criminal involvement, and fidelity to the BTL intervention administered at pre, during and post the intervention.  Data collection is completed and analysis is in process.


Victim Offender Mediation/Dialogue (VOM/D)

vom2aVOM/D is a victim-initiated program in serious and violent crime offered by Victim Services of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  Following an extensive preparation, victims of severely violent crimes and offenders meet to address the deep harms done to the victim and the offenders’ personal responsibility for those harms, including ways the offender can help reduce the victim’s suffering. An initial study found that the program had a profound effect on 80% of the research participants.  Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) is now available in over 24 states.  IRJ&RD is measuring psychological and behavioral change in VOM/D participants

Victim Offender Mediated Dialogue: Study of the Impact of a Victim Oriented Intervention in Crimes of Severe Violence

This study is a one-group pre-post within subjects design with repeated measures.  Information is gathered at four points about changes in victim and offender attitudes and spirituality, victim physical and psychological symptoms, and offender behavior.

  • Time 1 is after acceptance into the VOM/D program.
  • Time 2 is the end of the preparation period.
  • Time 3 is after the mediated dialogue has occurred.
  • Time 4 is six months after the mediated dialogue.

The sample is comprised of 60 dyads (60 victims and 60 offenders) and their mediators.  The study examines victim changes in rumination, vengeance, gratitude, empathy, religion, forgiveness, psychological distress, anger, physical health, and meaning making.  It examines offender changes in vengeance, empathy, religion, gratitude, meaning making and prison behaviors.   Data analysis will use multilevel or hierarchical modeling to estimate change in victims and offenders across time using growth curve analysis.


Impact of the Ultimate Penal Sanction

Most research on the death penalty has focused on the death penalty and singularly on the offender instead of the victim or family of the deceased.  Anecdotal accounts suggest that survivors’ reactions are complex and highly nuanced.   Yet the ultimate penal sanction is promulgated as a mechanism that helps restore equity and reduce suffering in homicide survivors.  IRJRD is comparing the effect of the ultimate penal sentence on the healing process of family survivors in Texas (death penalty) and Minnesota (life-without-the- possibility-of-parole).


Impact of the Ultimate Penal Sanction on the Healing of Family Survivors of Homicide Victims

This multi-site study uses a repeated cross sectional and mixed-methods research design to examine and compare differences in the conviction and post-conviction experiences of family survivors of homicide victims. The sample is comprised of 40 adult survivors of homicide victims whose offender received the ultimate penal sanction.  In Texas, the offender will have received the death penalty.  In Minnesota the offender has received 30 years (from 1990 to 2002) or life-without-the-possibility-of-parole (from 2002 – present).

Ten survivors (5 per state) are randomly selected from each of four time periods after sentencing:

Texas Minnesota

Sentencing to 1 year (T1)55
5-7 years (T2)55
9-11 years (T3)55
13-15 years (T4)55

Data collection consists of measures on complicated bereavement and social support and structured interviews on participants’ (a) perceptions of justice, (b) attitudes about the ultimate penal sanction, (c) experiences with the criminal justice system, (d) experiences with the offender, (e) psychological states, (f) social and psychological support, (g) religion/spirituality, (h) experiences with the media, and (i) family relationships.  Data analysis will include template analysis of the data from semi-structured interviews and MANOVA to examine differences in wellbeing between and within groups over time.


Clinical Interventions and Understanding for Family Members of Homicide Victims

handsa1IRJRD has conducted four studies of homicide survivors that provide clinicians and other service providers with information and understanding about to engage with and address the needs of survivors.


Journey of Family Members of Homicide Victims: A Qualitative Study of Their Posthomicide Experience

This qualitative phenomenological study examined the journey of family members of homicide victims from the time of the tragedy to the present. The unit of analysis was the family (n=14 families). The findings included six essential themes:

  1. This is a Nightmare You Don’t Wake Up From.
  2. I Feel Betrayed By Those I Thought Cared.
  3. What Rights Don’t I Have Anymore.
  4. Belonging Relieves My Alienation & Loneliness.
  5. I’ve Stopped Waiting for Things to go Back.
  6. The Intense Pursuit of What Matters is the Meaning in My Life.

The findings give information about how practitioners can increase the effectiveness and range of their treatment interventions.

Armour, M.P. (2002).  The Journey of Family Members of Homicide Victims: A Qualitative Study of Their Post Homicide Experience.  American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 72(3), 372-383.


Meaning Making in the Aftermath of Homicide

Although sense making or finding benefit are well documented examples of meaning making processes, meaning making grounded in action has received less attention.  The intense pursuit of what matters’ is a form of coping comprised of intentional acts that have symbolic meaning.  Its implied purpose is to restore or find meaning in a changed life through problem solving or striving to attain visionary goals.   Manifestations of the theme include 1) declarations of truth, 2) fighting for what’s right, and 3) living in ways that give purpose to the loved one’s death.  Each of these manifestations is conveyed in two ways: 1) Declarations of truth are conveyed by a) declarations that expose hypocrisy and b) declarations of self determination.  2) Fighting for what’s right is conveyed by a) fighting for what’s mine and b) fighting to correct what’s wrong.  3) Living in ways that give purpose to the loved one’s death is conveyed by a) using my experience to benefit others and b) living life deliberately in an effort to give positive value to the homicide.  Implications of this mode of meaning reconstruction are discussed relative to the re-establishment of a sense of coherence expressed as “I make sense” and self-continuity expressed as” I go on”

Armour, M.P. (2003).  Making Meaning in the Aftermath of Homicide. Death Studies, 27(6), 519-540.


Developing Clinical Interventions for Family Members of Homicide Victims

The Victims Intervention Project Institute (VIPI) in St. Paul, Minnesota has created a series of interventions that shorten and constructively guide mourners through the protracted grief reaction associated with traumatic bereavement.  This study documents the methods used by VIPI as part of a larger initiative to research and manualize a clinically effective practice model for use with this population.  Data collection consists of interviews with the Executive Director who created the interventions, weekly interviews with the co-facilitators of the homicide groups over 4 months as they implement the interventions, and semi-structured interviews with the group members on critical events, directed guidance, and/or stated principles that helped them with their mourning.


Meaning Making in Survivorship: Application to Holocaust Survivors

Research shows that trauma survivors have difficulty finding meaning when meaning-making processes are defined as sense-making or benefit finding. This study applies an emerging, noncognitive meaning-making process, meaning-making grounded in action, to the lifetime experiences of older Holocaust survivors.  This study used a mixed methods design. Data were collected by mental health professionals with a survey that consisted of 188 semistructured questions as well as standardized measures. Information was gathered on participants’ demographics; their lives before, during, and after the Nazi occupation; sense-making; forgiveness; resilience; Eriksonian life history stages; survivorship characteristics; and aging. Findings indicate that survival was the core theme at 3 different time points.

  • During the Holocaust, survival meant keeping hope alive and keeping self alive.
  • After the Holocaust, survival meant reconstructing and regaining what was lost and cultivating proactive attitudes.
  • Now, during the later years, survival means maintaining health, fulfilling obligations and moral imperatives, and building strength from protests and self-pride.

Findings have application for other groups who have experienced mass trauma and contribute to meaning-making theory.

Armour, M. (in press).  Meaning Making in Survivorship: Application to Holocaust Survivors. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.