By Jordan Richardson, Laurie Garduque, and Mai Fernandez
Recent criminal justice reforms, such as the creation of alternatives to incarceration and the tearing down of barriers to reentry from prison, have resulted in significant changes around the country. Nonetheless, there’s one thing that has remained the same: policymakers are failing to consult crime victims prior to the development and deployment of these reforms.
This National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, we urge jurisdictions across the country to bring victims to the table and ask them what they think about criminal justice reform and how they can create a criminal justice system that better takes into account how to make victims whole. Their suggestions may be surprising, and they will help ensure that the changes policymakers create will serve everyone affected by the justice system.
In recent years, policymakers have passed reforms to help curb overcriminalization, reduce jail and prison use, and ensure that sentences are tailored to make the punishment fit the crime. Reporting by the Vera Institute of Justice shows that in 2017, local law enforcement agencies embraced diversion programs and promoted changes to foster trust among the communities they serve. While these changes are long overdue, policymakers have largely excluded victims’ voices from the conversation.
Too often, reformers avoid considering victims’ views because they assume the victims’ highest priority is punishment. But this is far from the truth.
Recent polling published in 2017 by the Alliance for Safety and Justice found that only 4 percent of crime victims believe that “too few people in prison” contributes to crime in their community. In fact, 86 percent of victims believe that programs providing rehabilitation and drug and mental health treatment for people already in the justice system should receive more funding.