Pursue justice for all crime victims by continuing to reform our justice systems to increase transparency, ensure that victims’ voices are heard, and provide meaningful accountability.
Victims cannot receive “justice” from a system they don’t understand; they cannot have confidence that a system is “fair” unless they know how the system is supposed to function and are kept informed during the process. Therefore, transparency is integral to any system that purports to consider or resolve allegations of crime or abuse against a victim—whether through the criminal, juvenile, military, or civil justice processes; university disciplinary processes; specialized court processes; or other avenues. A victim must be fully informed about each step of the justice process and all important events or proceedings.
Transparency requires language access, including interpreters for victims with limited English proficiency or who are Deaf or hard of hearing, from the reporting and investigation stage through the resolution of the case. It requires physical access to courtrooms and other forums for those with disabilities. And it requires a multi-pronged approach to ensure that victims understand the stages and limits of the process and their related legal rights.
Transparency regarding the workings and limits of the process should be wide ranging. It should go beyond traditional brochures to include approaches such as video explanations, the development of apps for smart phones or other technology, and the education of community-based advocates who work with victims. Information and education should include the basics of court rules and procedures and how charges and sentences or dispositions are determined.
Victims must also have a voice in the process, including an opportunity to make a full report of the crime to a well-trained investigator and to have input into pretrial release, diversion, and plea decisions. For victims to have a real voice, many of them require an independent advocate. Separate representation of crime victims by legal counsel is a very promising practice. If attorneys cannot be affirmatively provided to victims, there must be uniform standards to inform victims of their right to legal counsel and of referral sources for legal assistance.
While victim assistants employed in criminal justice agencies (such as law enforcement or the prosecutor’s office) provide a very important liaison role, they can also be subject to the inherent conflicts and pressures that come from being a part of the criminal justice system. Moreover, they are generally required to share certain information with the prosecutor—who in turn is mandated to share certain information with the defense counsel. These requirements limit the confidentiality such system-based assistants can provide victims. An independent advocate, who is not employed by a criminal justice agency, can hold all actors in the system accountable for honoring the rights of victims while protecting victim confidentiality.
Victims look to justice systems to provide accountability. Accountability from the perpetrator often includes restitution to the victim—repayment of the victim’s financial losses due to the crime. It can also mean other forms of restoration to the victim, particularly in cases where the victim sustained harm but only low out-of-pocket expenses, or in cases where the victim does not prioritize repayment. Such victims may instead want to request that the defendant agree to cease contact with the victim or to take specified steps toward reformation. When the defendant is ordered to make monetary resolution or take other actions as part of a sentence or conditions of probation, compliance with that order should be regularly monitored and promoted.
Restorative justice programs that emphasize repairing the harm of an offense, whether outside of or in conjunction with a judicial process, can provide accountability to victims. For such programs to repair the harm to victims, rather than aggravate the harm, victims should control their own involvement and their physical and emotional safety must be a consideration. We support the continued development of restorative justice programs as an option for accountability to victims.
Victims also require accountability from the system. There must be highly visible avenues for victims to make a complaint regarding poor treatment or violation of their rights, as well as consequences for either occurrence.
In furtherance of this policy priority, we support:
- Transparency in all justice processes, including language access for victims with limited English proficiency throughout the justice system.
- Special access and transparency features to accommodate the needs of victims with disabilities.
- A meaningful voice for victims in all justice processes.
- Avenues to provide legal counsel to victims.
- The enforcement of court orders affecting victims, including restitution orders.
- The continued development of restorative justice as an option for victims.