Friday, January 26, 2007

Misuse and Abuse of Victims

Back in the '90s sentencing reform movement in OK, the prosecutors and law enforcement types were pushing a version that would have moved the state's prison pop from around 20,000 to over 50,000 in 20 years (really, I'm not kidding, I did the projections). This came in response to the state sentencing commission's consideration of a NC-like reform putting more reliance on treatment for nonviolent, nonhabitual offenders. At one commission meeting, they lined the walls with victims and victims' families to speak out against the commission draft (which, coincidentally, received exactly the same support from crime victims as non-victims in a poll that was being circulated that day, which reflected the usual finding that victims as a whole, not just the vocal ones, rarely have drastically different views of sentencing policy from the general public). A few of the wall-liners spoke. The one that I still remember was a tragic woman, probably 40s, strikingly attractive, who told movingly and with that affect achieved by those who have overcome their fear of public speaking to make her case of how her son and his girlfriend had been killed by a teen who had a violent history and hadn't been properly punished by the state. So, she said, she supported the heavily adult prison-oriented reform pushed by her sponsors. She couldn't bear the thought of another parent living with the crushing loss she had endured. She and others did have an impact. The commission's version eventually crashed and burned, in no small part because of the activation of people like her. Fortunately for the taxpayers of OK, the final product didn't incorporate the alternative version the grieving mother was pushing either.

Did you catch the problem with this narrative? The woman's son was killed by a teen who had been in and out of OK's, uh, frequently interesting juvenile justice system. So she was pushing an adult prison increase proposal that would . . . funnel yet even more money away from the juvenile justice system whose failure had contributed to her son's death. In the name of no more deaths.

No one pointed out the contradiction in what she was, very bravely, doing in true ignorance. That would have been extraordinarily cruel. But not anywhere as cruel as what was done to her by her sponsors who had marshalled the troops like her around the committee room that day. I was furious and frustrated and prayed that I would never again see some poor, well-intentioned person get conned into doing something that actually was 180 degrees from what s/he really wanted to accomplish.

Prayers don't always come true.

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