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Parallel Justice: A Matter of Conscience

By Susan Herman,National Center for Victims of Crime, University of Vermont, October 25, 2002

Whenever I can, I accept invitations to come to Vermont because you challenge me, you make me think harder. In many respects your response to crime is exemplary. You lead the country with a wide range of victim services and a very progressive criminal justice system. You have broken new ground developing neighbor-to-neighbor support for victims of crime. You have created a network of coordinated victim services way ahead of most states—and by removing time limits for filing claims—you encourage victims to seek victim compensation more than any other state in the country.

I also understand that you are actively engaged in large scale overhauling of your corrections system. You are creating a system which seeks to begin the reintegration of offenders back into productive community life—starting at the time of sentencing, continuing through incarceration and still working toward it post-release. So, it’s a very special privilege to be asked to join you and to help you develop a new vision of justice, because I believe you are some of our nation’s greatest visionaries.

Some of you may know, this event was originally scheduled a year ago but the tragic events of September 11 intervened, and we had to postpone our plans.

A lot has happened in this last year. In many ways, the events of September 11 turned our world upside down. We have all entered a new era, with a new sense of national purpose, a new understanding of our vulnerability, and a renewed commitment to the values of our society.

At the National Center for Victims of Crime, we too have been profoundly affected by this tragedy. These same events have compelled us to re-evaluate our priorities, think hard about the purpose of our work, and question our understanding of the world.

For us, September 11 highlighted very powerful lessons about trauma, about victimization, and about justice.

Today I would like to talk to you about the National Center’s vision of justice. But first let me ask you a question. Please close your eyes and listen carefully. TAKE YOURSELF BACK IN TIME.

Thousands of people in America have been shaken to the core.
They have suffered a trauma unprecedented in their lives.
Thousands have lost a sense of security and safety they once took for granted.
Thousands face an indefinite period of uncertainty and anxiety.
Every day they experience feelings of shock, anguish, grief, fear, pessimism.
Anger and confusion overwhelm them at times.
They are struggling to make sense of what happened and regain a sense of control over their lives.

Now here’s my question:

Am I describing how so many of us in America felt after September 11?

Or, am I describing how many victims of crime feel every day?

Victims of terrorism and victims of everyday crime have much in common. They often live in a constant state of fear, not knowing where danger lurks, feeling only the most tenuous connection to other people.

The parallels are quite instructive. I can tell you as someone who lives in Montgomery County, MD, right outside Washington, DC—where my kids have gone to school the last few weeks during what they now understand as Code Blue, or a lock down—it might matter to the press and the police if the sniper is a terrorist or just an ordinary criminal— and it’s the subject of much speculation—but none of us living with this madness really cared. The fear has been palpable and the fine distinctions don’t matter. We all want our safety restored and to get on with our lives.

These parallels between victims of September 11 and victims of other kinds of crime have pushed us all to think a little bit harder about our ongoing response to all victims of crime.

Think of the outpouring of support for the victims of September 11. We have seen tremendous generosity, from individual acts of kindness to historic levels of charitable giving. Neighbors helping neighbors. Communities embracing victims and survivors. We saw Americans from all walks of life asking what they could do—what their contribution could be. We saw realtors raising money for mortgages and rent, financial planners offering free counsel, artists contributing art for healing, restaurants donating food, and massage therapists offering their skills. It seemed everyone could find a creative way to provide meaningful assistance.

And, there has been unprecedented federal legislation compensating victims for their losses. There has never been a sustained societal response to crime victims comparable to this.

So, we have much to learn from this experience.

Imagine a world in which there is a Red Cross offering emergency assistance to all homicide survivors and any other crime victims who needed it, just as there is for victims of hurricanes, floods, and now terrorism.

Imagine a world in which neighbors, church groups, and block associations are mobilized to offer support and comfort to crime victims in their communities— victims of assault, rape, or car crashes caused by drunk drivers—just as they often support people who are sick or elderly. And, just as they supported victims of September 11.

Imagine a world where government officials feel it is their responsibility to restore safety for all victims—where all victims are offered emergency housing, not just battered women, but all victims who need it—victims of gang violence, sexual assault, or burglary—intimidated witnesses who can no longer live in their neighborhoods without fear.

Imagine that each community provides a forum for victims to express their needs, comparable to the hearings that Special Master Kenneth Feinberg is now holding under the new federal compensation scheme for victims of September 11.

Imagine that state and federal government made helping all crime victims a priority—that we responded to all victims, every individual victim of any crime, with the commitment we have brought to the victims of September 11.

Imagine a society that felt that justice required no less.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said, “Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.”

At the National Center for Victims of Crime, we embrace this vision of justice for victims. We call it Parallel Justice. We believe the pursuit of justice for victims does not depend on the arrest and adjudication of offenders.

Let me explain.

When offenders are brought to the bar of justice they are held accountable by the state for harms suffered by individuals. The state serves as our conscience. There is a societal response to the offender that says, “You violated the law and we will hold you accountable, punish you if it is appropriate, isolate you if needed, and offer you services to help reintegrate you back into the community.”

The individuals who have been harmed—the victims of crime—should have a comparable experience of a societal response to them. Our collective conscience must respond to them as well. Under a system of Parallel Justice we would say to them, “What happened to you is wrong and we will help you rebuild your life.” And, as we are seeing now for victims of September 11, for the most part, this can happen outside the context of the criminal justice system. In our vision of “Parallel Justice,” we believe that society should hold offenders accountable for the harms they’ve caused. We also believe there is a separate social obligation to repair the harm caused by crime.

For me, Parallel Justice is an important guidepost for victim advocates because it changes the conversation we have been having about the appropriate response to victims of crime. For the last 20 years, victim advocates have worked hard to make the criminal justice system more responsive to victims’ needs—to make sure that victims are respected, are included, are heard.

It is important to make the criminal justice system more responsive to victims and we have made enormous progress here. But, the idea of Parallel Justice requires us to decouple the pursuit of justice for victims from the administration of justice for offenders. We seek more than victims’ rights to participate in the criminal justice system. We seek a separate path to justice for victims.

What does that mean? It means when we consider justice for victims, we must always begin and end by asking what is it victims need to rebuild their lives and what is our obligation to them? In answering these questions, we should not be limited by the framework of the criminal justice system. Think of September 11. We didn’t begin by asking, “What is the appropriate role for victims in the investigation, prosecution, adjudication, and sentencing of offenders?” We asked, “What do these victims need?”

We must remember that the vast majority of victims have no involvement in the criminal justice system, they never see a courtroom, and their offender is never arrested. So, we must develop ways to address the needs and concerns of all crime victims, not just those in the system.

The concept of Parallel Justice changes the paradigm. Instead of asking victims to seek justice solely through the criminal justice process, we instead ask victims to define the problems they face—and then, we do our best to address them. In this new world, there would be a victim-oriented justice process that would kick in with the occurrence of a crime and attend to the needs of victims of all crime, violent and non-violent. Offenders, communities, and society at large would be asked to help victims rebuild their lives—to help reintegrate victims back into productive community life.

Offenders who are apprehended can make restitution. If they acknowledge responsibility for the crime, they can contribute to a victim’s well-being in ways nobody else can. Many restorative practices can give victims (who seek it) a more complete understanding of the event.

Let me be clear, particularly in Vermont, that I believe restorative justice programs have much to offer victims who want to participate in them. Unlike the traditional criminal justice system, restorative justice offers victims a highly participatory process. As I understand it, restorative justice gives victims an opportunity to:

  • tell their story and to be heard, to reconnect to their community;
  • rebuild their relationship with the offender if one exists;
  • get important information and sometimes to experience empathy from the offender, the community, or both;
  • receive an apology and/or an expression of remorse from the offender; and
  • receive restitution.

But victims often need much more.

We know that some victims move on with their lives fairly easily, but many suffer continuing trauma without the services and support they need. Victims often suffer lowered academic performance, decreased work productivity, and severe loss of confidence. Mental illness, suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse are far more common among crime victims than the general public. Research comparing battered women to women who haven’t been abused shows they are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide, 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 4 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 3 times more likely to be diagnosed as depressed or psychotic.

The data is similar for victims of sexual assault. We also know that victimization during adolescence can be particularly harmful. Abused and victimized adolescents are more likely to suffer from more physical and emotional problems than non-victimized youth. This holds true for maltreatment in the home as well as victimization by peers and strangers. The National Center’s recent report, “Our Vulnerable Teenagers”—available on our website—also shows that the single greatest factor in predicting criminal behavior on the part of teenagers was not teenage pregnancy, drug use, or truancy, but whether they had been a victim of crime.

It is clear that although we tend to think of the damage caused by crime in terms of individual victims, there is also an enormous toll on families, communities, and society-at-large. When a significant portion of the 25 million people who become victims of crime each year remains psychologically, physically, and financially unstable, there are real consequences. We all suffer.

So, repairing the harm is often far more complicated than apologies and restitution and relationship-building. It can require long-term mental health counseling, assistance with safety planning, relocation, and any number of services required to rebuild a life—emergency day care for the parent who needs to get a job to handle new crime-related expenses, substance abuse treatment for the traumatized victim who has turned to drugs, an escort or companion for the victim now too afraid to leave home or go to the store alone, employment counseling or training for the victim who no longer can perform his or her old job—or even something as simple as new locks or windows for their home.

Many victims’ needs cannot be met by individual offenders or small communities because there is only so much they can do. But, the extent to which a victim can be “restored” should not be limited by the capacity of the offender and the community. To the extent victims need more than empathy, restitution and relationship building, restorative justice, like the traditional criminal justice system, will fall far short. Again, this is not to say that restorative justice does not offer something of value. Often it is simply of limited value.

By contrast, beyond the offender and the community, in a system of Parallel Justice, there is also a role for society at large, represented by the state, in repairing the harm. Only the government can marshal the many resources needed to address victims’ long-term complicated problems. The day care, the employment counseling and training, the substance abuse treatment, or the housing needs of victims—usually cannot be adequately addressed by offenders and communities alone. Society as a whole should be asked to play a role.

Because Parallel Justice requires that the state helps victims rebuild their lives, we must ask in what forum that should take place. When two-thirds of victims never report the crime to the police, and when only one in five crimes ever results in an arrest, we need more than a criminal court to provide a communal response to victims. We must not allow ourselves to merely tinker with offender-oriented systems that are not designed to address victims’ needs.

Instead, we must create a separate path to justice where society tells victims “what happened to you was wrong and we will help you rebuild your life.” I am often asked why I speak of Parallel Justice and not victims’ justice—or for that matter why don’t I just talk about this as a fuller, more complete vision of justice. For me, the term Parallel Justice does two things. First, it underscores the need to create a separate path to justice for victims—apart from the criminal justice system, but relating to it. Second, it highlights the contemporaneous nature of their paths. We must reintegrate both victim and offender, and much of the work can take place at the same time, with options for connections or interactions. If you like you can visualize a ladder—two paths to justice that are connected by rungs—opportunities to interact.

Some might say the government can’t afford to do this. I would argue that addressing the needs of the millions of Americans who become victims of crime each year would be a tremendously cost-effective investment.

There are many ways to promote Parallel Justice for victims. Providing comprehensive victim services to all crime victims is a part of Parallel Justice. Implementing and enforcing the full body of victims’ rights laws is a part of Parallel Justice. Being honest with victims about what the criminal justice system can and cannot do is a part of Parallel Justice. Explaining to victims the remedies available to them through the civil justice system contributes to Parallel Justice.

So, let’s think about how you might operationalize Parallel Justice in Vermont. Today, let’s focus primarily on how to implement Parallel Justice at the government level. By highlighting the government’s role, I don’t want to minimize the role of the offender or the community in Parallel Justice—it’s just not our focus today. I would like to propose Ten Essential Ingredients of Parallel Justice.

1. Commitment to help victims of crime rebuild their lives.

The mission of the National Center for Victims of Crime is to forge a national commitment to help victims of crime rebuild their lives. This is our core purpose because we believe the foundation of Parallel Justice must be the public will to help victims of crime rebuild their lives. And to create that public will, we need much more public discourse about how the powerful, and often life-changing impact of crime on individuals ultimately produces tremendous negative consequences for us all. I believe that when the public really understands the strong link between victimization and poor mental health, teenage pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, unemployment, suicide, delinquency and crime—so many overwhelming social problems—then we will finally as a nation (or state or community) decide to put far more resources into getting victims back on track—helping victims rebuild their lives.

This commitment must extend to all victims of any crime. All victims of crime should have the right to participate fully in, and be treated with dignity and respect by, the health care, social service, and criminal justice systems. Everyone who has been harmed by crime, who wants help to recover, should get help. At the National Center, we have a motto that captures this point: Every crime has a victim and every victim needs our help.

This means that we can no longer divide victims, or portray some groups of victims as more deserving than others. For instance, many statutes, many victims’ bills of rights, and many state constitutional amendments—and in fact, even the current proposal for a federal victims’ rights constitutional amendment—only create rights for victims of violent crime.

We should not make these distinctions. How can we say that someone who has been mugged and lost her wallet has a constitutional right to be present and participate at all critical stages of the criminal justice process—and someone who has lost his entire life savings through a telemarketing scam can be shut out? Why are we satisfied with victim’s compensation regulations which only reimburse victims of violent crime and ignore victims of burglary and identity theft? We have allowed our victim services to be too narrowly circumscribed. Victims of crime are victims of crime.

We should also challenge the phrase “innocent victim” when we hear it. We must resist arbitrary categories of deserving versus undeserving victims. Just as we have come to see that battered women who abuse drugs need shelter and support just as much as those who don’t—we must extend our definition of “deserving” to victims in other complicated situations.

For example, it is time to offer assistance to victims of crimes committed by police officers. Police brutality is criminal behavior. We must not ignore its victims. Similarly, people who have been assaulted or raped in prison, mental hospitals, or other institutions, are also victims of crime. We must not ignore them.

A victim of crime is a victim of crime, and the first essential ingredient of Parallel Justice is a commitment to help all of them rebuild their lives.

2. Forums to hear what happened and what each victim’s needs are.

As a society, we need to hear the personal accounts of crime. We need to understand victims’ experiences to be able to address crime—to prevent it and to respond to it. We also need to hear victims’ stories to be able to help them with the most appropriate and effective services and resources.

And victims need to be heard. It’s therapeutic in and of itself to know someone— and in this case, our government—cares enough to take the time to listen.

As I have read the accounts of victims telling their “stories” to Ken Feinberg, the Special Master for the September 11 Federal Victim Compensation Fund, I have been struck by the many victims who have said how important these sessions have been for their healing process. The Special Master is not a psychologist providing therapy or a family member providing caring attention. This forum represents society as a whole, through the government, listening to victims.

The Parallel Justice forums should also provide a comfortable, non-adversarial process. A police report should trigger the opportunity for victims to participate, without having to prove who committed the crime. Victims should be given the chance to explain the impact of the crime, and set forth what they need to get back on track. They should be able to submit their statements in writing or in person and come back again as their needs change.

In all the accounts of Ken Feinberg’s meetings, his goal seems to be to convey, “What happened to you was wrong, we’ll do everything we can to help you.” In providing Parallel Justice this should be our ongoing goal.

3. Priority access whenever possible to social services.

Let’s think about how this might work.

What should we do for the woman who has been mugged, now too afraid to leave her home to buy food or go to work? Should she be offered counseling, should we try to organize transportation for her? I think so.

How about the teller who was held up and can no longer face going to work in a bank? Should we help her learn how to earn a living a new way? I think so.

What can we say to the elderly victim of a telemarketing scam who lost his entire life savings and can’t earn it back? Should we offer emergency financial assistance? I think so.

What can we offer the battered woman who wants desperately to leave her violent home but will need a job, day care, and new housing to do it? Can we make her a priority? Yes.

What do we say to the young victim of sexual assault, incest or child abuse, who has begun to use drugs to numb the pain? Can we give him priority access to drug treatment? I think we should.

In Parallel Justice every effort should be made to help victims feel safe and get back on track. Crime harms everyone involved and we need to reintegrate victims, as well as offenders, back into productive community life.

Only the government can marshal the many resources needed to address victims’ long-term, complicated problems. The health care, the job training, or the relocation needs of victims—usually cannot be addressed by offenders and neighbors alone. So, society as a whole should be asked to play a role.

4. Emergency, transitional, and ongoing services as needed.

Parallel Justice requires attention to the impact of crime on individuals, on families, and on communities. All victims should be attended to right after the crime occurs. All victims should be offered a variety of services from supportive counseling and psychotherapy to very practical assistance such as new locks for smashed doors and new glass for broken windows. And services should be offered beyond crisis intervention, they should be available on an ongoing basis to meet victims’ long term needs. This ingredient of Parallel Justice recognizes that a crime may last only a moment, but its impact can be felt for a lifetime.

5. Compensation for economic losses, ongoing crime-related needs, and pain and suffering.

Last year, Congress appropriated nearly $20 billion for law enforcement and corrections. Compare that with the roughly $500 million the federal government makes available each year for victim compensation and support services—money that comes solely from offender fines and penalties. With rare exception, Congress is relying solely on offender fines to fund programs for victims—as though victims’ well-being is solely offenders’ responsibility. I believe it is fundamentally wrong to commit federal tax dollars for every aspect of our response to crime—except our response to victims.

Again, we have lessons to learn from our post-September 11 experience. Shortly after the attacks, federal tax dollars were used to fund an enormous amount of services for victims of the attacks—from mental health counseling, to relocation, to employment training. We also saw an unprecedented attempt by the government to compensate victims for their financial losses. Congress created a new September 11 Federal Victim Compensation Fund to help victims regain financial security. The Fund set a new standard for this country in helping victims of crime rebuild their lives.

Unlike current—and woefully inadequate—state compensation schemes that provide crime victims minimal aid to cover immediate out-of-pocket expenses, the new federal program makes significant strides in addressing victims’ long-term needs. In fact, in many respects, it provides a good model.

Notwithstanding its prohibition on lawsuits, which I don’t think we should replicate, the September 11 Fund moves in the right direction by adopting several key principles: In addition to covering immediate out-of-pocket expenses, the Fund will compensate for pain and suffering, for future lost earnings and for non-economic losses. The Fund also draws from general tax revenues, not just offender fines, acknowledging a societal obligation to victims and sending an important message that we are all helping these victims get back on track.

Can we continue to compensate all victims of crime at the same level as the September 11 Fund? Probably not—but the critical question should not be whether our tax payer dollars should be used to help victims at all, but rather how much can we afford.

6. Fair and respectful treatment of victims within the Criminal Justice System.

Even as we build this separate path to justice, we should still advocate for fair and respectful treatment of victims when they interact with the traditional offender-oriented criminal justice system. For at least two reasons: First, victims and the public at large will have greater confidence and trust in the criminal justice system if victims’ views are heard, regardless of the outcomes. Second, participation and fair treatment in the process of determining what happens to an offender is often a part of what victims need as a result of a crime.

As you know, the victims rights movement developed a new legal role for victims in the criminal justice system by creating many participatory rights including the right to consultation before plea agreements, the right to be present during critical stages of the process, the right to provide victim impact statements, the right to be heard at sentencing, the right to participate in parole hearings and in pardon or commutation proceedings, and the right to notice of release.

Over the last 20 years, states have enacted hundreds of statutes codifying victims’ rights. Half our states give victims a general right to a speedy trial, or they require that the court consider the victim’s interests in ruling on a motion for continuance. Many jurisdictions have created automated systems of notification to victims.

In fact, 32 of the 50 American states, not including Vermont, have now amended their state constitutions to include victims’ rights, usually including the rights to be informed, present, and heard at critical stages of the criminal justice process.

Even with this progress, victims are still unsatisfied with their actual access to information and actual level of participation. A recent National Center for Victims of Crime study found that even in states with strong legal rights for crime victims, nearly two-thirds of victims were not informed of the pretrial release of the accused, half of all victims in cases resulting in plea agreements were not given an opportunity to consult with the prosecutor prior to the plea agreement, and nearly half were never notified of the sentencing hearing at all. And these are states with strong legal rights for crime victims!

As a nation, our collective conscience tells us to vigorously uphold due process guarantees for offenders (Miranda rights, the right to counsel, the right to remain silent) not only because it’s good for individual offenders—but also because these rights reflect a higher value—that this is how we as a society want to treat our citizens. It’s fair, it’s the right thing to do.

Let’s be clear, Parallel Justice requires that we hold those values of fairness and justice for victims. We need to create an expectation that victims are treated fairly in the criminal justice system. We need to create strong legal rights, and we need to enforce them.

7. Enforcement of Restitution Orders.

Just as rights should be enforced, court orders of restitution should be enforced. Restitution is particularly important to victims. A restitution order is a recognition, by the courts, that the offender has a specific obligation to the victim—to repay the victim for specific losses.

From a victim’s perspective, a restitution order conveys a powerful message—that their experience matters to the court, and their losses are real. The widespread failure to enforce these orders conveys another message—that talk is cheap, that the state doesn’t really mean what it says, that even victims who endure the hardships of the court process get no more than an empty promise.

So, restitution orders must be enforced—to enhance the credibility of the criminal justice system, but more important to provide justice for victims.

8. Recognition that the impact of crime may require special allowances.

In the aftermath of September 11, the federal government and several states bent over backwards to ease the many burdens facing the victims of the attacks. We were all so impressed by the announcement by the federal government that victims of September 11 would get significant federal tax relief. That victims could postpone or reduce payments on federal college loans. That the Social Security Administration set up an emergency processing system immediately. In New York, the government waived the one week waiting period for unemployment insurance claims. The Workers Compensation Board and life insurance companies decided to accept affidavits in lieu of death certificates to expedite the processing of claims. The federal government, through the Department of Labor, created services and temporary jobs for workers temporarily or permanently impacted. The government even provided equipment and training for those in transitional employment. And, whatever state victims compensation programs did not cover in the way of crisis counseling, funeral expenses or clean up, FEMA announced it would cover, including low interest loans or grants for renters or homeowners if their home was damaged, or they were forced to relocate as a result of the attacks.

Now, my point here is not that every crime victim should be given all of these allowances—rather that we should, as a nation, always consider how crippling the impact of crime can be, and continue to bend rules when we can afford to do so. This means more than time off from work to attend court proceedings (although frankly that is not a bad place to start). It also means providing tax relief and low-interest loans, and certainly allowances for late payments, and flexibility regarding other legal obligations.

9. Safety planning to prevent repeat victimization.

Studies have shown us that after you become a victim of almost any kind of crime, you are more likely to be victimized again. So it is in the interest of victims, and society at large, that reasonable steps be taken to prevent repeat victimization. Perhaps our most fundamental imperative for all crime victims is to provide for their safety. Victims cannot rebuild their lives if they are unsafe or fearful. This means that, when police respond to a crime, a primary goal—in addition to collecting evidence and apprehending the offender—should be to reduce the chances that the victim will be victimized again. Every victim deserves a safety plan and victim advocates should be involved at every step along the way, supporting victims, bringing their expertise into the safety planning process.

This obligation extends beyond the police. When judges set bail conditions, they should consider victim safety. When prosecutors enter into plea agreements, they should consider victim safety. When corrections agencies release prisoners back into the community, and parole agencies supervise them, they should also consider victim safety. Every case, every time, every victim.

10. Regular surveys of victims.

Because crime is local, the only way to know what specific resources are needed and what services should be available is to conduct regular surveys of victims. I would suggest two kinds of surveys. The first, random household victimization surveys, where you interview the public, can tell us the kinds of crimes that are taking place in our communities—both the nature of the crime and the prevalence. The second is surveys of individual victims to tell us whether victims are being treated appropriately and respectfully by criminal justice and social service agencies. We need to know—at the local level—whether our crime prevention strategies make sense and whether appropriate services are available to meet the actual needs of crime victims in any given community. In order to create Parallel Justice, we need a number of ways to listen to victims, on a regular basis, and household victimization surveys and focused victim interviews provide objective, efficient, and useful ways to do that.

So the ten essential ingredients of government’s role in Parallel Justice are:

  1. Commitment to help victims of crime rebuild their lives.
  2. Forums to hear what happened and what each victim’s needs are.
  3. Priority access whenever possible to social services.
  4. Emergency, transitional, and ongoing services as needed.
  5. Compensation for economic losses, ongoing crime-related needs, and pain and suffering.
  6. Fair and respectful treatment of victims within the Criminal Justice System.
  7. Enforcement of Restitution Orders.
  8. Recognition that the impact of crime may require special allowances.
  9. Safety planning to prevent repeat victimization.
  10. Regular surveys of victims.

Now, I’m sure with the talent and years of experience represented in this room, we could come up with several ways Parallel Justice could be operationalized. Perhaps Vermont could be the pioneering state that establishes a system of Parallel Justice. Every corner of Vermont would offer every victim of crime a forum to be heard and a range of basic services.

And as we work toward Parallel Justice, we should ask several questions and observe the process carefully. We must evaluate the impact of our work as we go and keep refining our vision.

For instance:

  • What impact does Parallel Justice have on victims’ quality of life? Are victims less fearful, healthier, more likely to be employed, less likely to be revictimized?
  • How do victims relate differently to the criminal justice system? Are they more likely to participate and have more trust and confidence in its goals?
  • How does Parallel Justice influence victims’ views on sentencing, if at all?

I would also like to encourage you to build your system of Parallel Justice by making sure that each part of it is good for the public as a whole, not just individual victims.

If this new path to justice is to take hold, the question we must ask when creating policies, or developing programs and resources is not just—are these good for individual victims, but is this legal right, this resource, this process we provide for victims, a good one for society as a whole? If we are serious about changing the paradigm here, we must not be afraid to ask this question. For any public policy to succeed, its support must be broad and deep. The policy must resonate with public values.

We believe that Parallel Justice will help individual victims rebuild their lives. We believe more victims will be reintegrated back into productive community life. There will be less depression, less suicide, less drug abuse, less teenage pregnancy, and truancy, and even less crime. So yes, it will be cost-effective for society to help victims.

But Parallel Justice also reflects a higher value—that we believe a just society should help those among us who have been harmed by crime. It’s ultimately about fairness, balancing interests. Our collective conscience tells us it’s the right thing to do.

And there couldn’t be a better time to make the case. A year after September 11, there is more widespread understanding of how painful and long-lasting the trauma of crime can be. More than ever, the public also understands how many ways neighbors and government officials alike can assist victims.

If there has ever been a time when the public could “get it”—could embrace this new vision, it’s now. If there has ever been a time when government leaders can be convinced that helping victims rebuild their lives is a fundamental part of justice—it’s now.

Please join us in seeking Parallel Justice for victims of crime.

Thank you.