While criminal justice reform has gained momentum in the U.S., with state and federal lawmakers pushing for new legislation that would reduce incarceration, lawmakers and advocates argue that crime victims are being excluded from the conversation, reports Law 360.
Advocates say that some lawmakers forget that crime victims are diverse and have different experiences with the criminal justice system and, rather than taking the time to hear the spectrum of victims’ voices on criminal justice reforms, will only engage with victims who support their proposed legislation.
Katherine Darke Schmitt, acting director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, said that reform should be implemented while keeping in mind that all crime victims have rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act which include protection from the accused, reasonable notification of court proceedings and the right to be heard during court proceedings, according to the law.
Another problem for victims in the criminal justice reform process is that lawmakers mistakenly think that state and federal prosecutors represent the victims, according to victims’ rights advocates. Instead, prosecutors just represent the interests of state and federal governments, they say.
According to 2016 national survey conducted by the Alliance for Safety and Justice ASJ of crime victims’ views on criminal justice reform, more than 50 percent of violent crimes are not reported because crime victims don’t trust the criminal justice system. In addition, only one in 10 crime victims out of the more than 3,000 individuals surveyed received assistance from a district attorney or prosecutor’s office, according to the study.
According to the ASJ’s survey, more than 60 percent of crime victims were in favor of shorter prison sentences and more spending on crime prevention and rehabilitation services. Out of the 3,165 individuals surveyed, only 6 percent reported that they thought more funding should be spent on jails and prisons, according to the study. Instead, 89 percent of the victims were in favor of more spending on education rather than prisons and jails, the study said.
In addition to victims’ voices being considered in criminal justice reforms, changes should be made in the criminal justice system to benefit victims, like more support services and better funding for these services. According to ASJ’s study, two out of three victims surveyed received no help from the criminal justice system following a crime.