For the past 30 years, researchers have documented the undeniable effects of the death penalty on inmates and their families, as well as the ongoing debate over its necessity. How does capital punishment affect the families of crime victims?
Skidmore College sponsored a conference on the subject late last week, The Saragotian in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., reports. The conference did not take a stand on the death penalty but rather explored how the criminal justice system responded to victim families’ needs. “The criminal justice system and academics are offender-focused,” said sociology professor David Karp. “We’ve often ignored the experience of victims as they try to recover from the crimes.”
Criminals are held an average of 12 years before execution, Karp said, a lag that sends victims’ families on emotional rollercoasters and forcing them to remain involved in situations that remind them of their loss. “Everyone agrees victims have been ill-treated,” Karp said.
Law Prof. Franklin Zimring of the University of California, Berkeley, questioned whether families truly feel relief after a death sentence is served. “Closure is more of an abstract and metaphorical term,” he told the conference. Criminologist Margaret Vandiver of the University of Memphis said family members who lose a loved one to murder suffer “emotional, intellectual and spiritual shock” and endure a “very complex and difficult grieving process.” Survivors often see their relationships, jobs and health suffer, she explained.