Monday, December 17, 2007

Victims and Shades of Gray

U.S. News & World Report has a short but good article on crime victims and what they get and should expect out of our criminal justice process. As a crime victim and someone who has served on a statewide victims’ board, I concur very much with this: "What our goal should be is to put the victim back into the position as if no crime had been committed," says Paul Cassell, a former federal judge who resigned this year to advocate for victims. The problem is, that “position” is not the same thing as a guilty verdict, something the politicians and, unfortunately, this article don’t distinguish. If we truly cared about victims in our society, we would indeed put far more into restorative justice. In my experience, the vengeance of a guilty verdict is not the primary concern of most crime victims (since many victims are related and close to their offenders, and this leaves aside the research showing that many victims are also offenders themselves), not to the extent that we commonly believe. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in terms of getting victims “back” and letting their legitimate needs and concerns be far more expressed than in the past. But prosecutors are called “State’s” or “District” attorneys, not “Victims Attorneys,” and forgetting that leads to problems not just for the rest of us but also for victims themselves. Victims’ interests are not always the same as the general public’s, for good or bad, as the demands of a vocal minority of victims to expropriate a huge portion of the public treasury needed for needs and concerns of those who don’t agree with the individual victim’s perceptions of “justice” show. And, again in my experience, victims don’t always run into prosecutors like it sounds like the guy in the article is. I’ve talked with several victims’ reps in DA offices who complain about the faux compassion and the lack of interest in victims’ needs unless it helps their conviction counts. Victims interested in mercy or nonincarcerative restitution frequently find themselves just as ignored as the folks whose complaints got the victims’ rights movement started. IOW, as in most cases, there’s a lot of nuance and gray area in the treatment of victims, and recognizing that they are not all the same and don’t all want the same is truly the first step to developing the kind of responses to victims that they deserve.

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