Friday, May 20, 2011

Ideas For A New System of Reform - Part 4

We all wish to avoid pain, and often go to great lengths to do so. Yet somehow our judicial system has forgotten that direct victims of crime have already experienced a loss, and the suffering which goes with it. We punish the offender, then do little to help the victims.


Half of all crime victims and survivors do not receive support for their victimization through the criminal justice system. 


How do You feel knowing this?? To explain further I wish to allow another point of view to penetrate our minds here; that of a victim.


The following is from the Spring 2011 issue Justice Matters, by Arwen Bird. The content is edited and summarized, but the original version can be found HERE.


 For the half of us who have reported the crime, systems may provide assistance with the immediate aftermath. Victims’ advocates guide survivors through the system, and crime victims’ compensation exists to help pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses that cannot be covered by insurance. Inevitably the support fades away leaving individuals or families to seek our own sources of help.


When the crash happened in February of 1993, I was paralyzed and my sister received a bruise on her brain. Immediately after, our medical expenses exceeded crime victims’ compensation. Within a month our insurance companies put a lien against my parents’ home to cover our bills. The lien was later removed...


At the same time we were navigating medical and insurance claims, the criminal justice system pursued the man who hit us. After a trial, he was convicted on two counts of second-degree assault and drunk driving. At that time, judges had discretion to determine a sentence that fit the crime. In this case, they sentenced him to a year in a county restitution center, where he was able to leave for work during the day and had to return evenings and weekends (the restitution center later closed due to budget cuts). He attended alcohol treatment, completed community service, and was ordered to pay restitution to my sister and me. As a survivor, the most important aspect of a sentence is that it works —and that is what happened in our case. 


The approximate cost of incarcerating the man who harmed my sister and me: $15,000. Fast forward to 2011—the laws that govern our criminal justice system have changed. The law implements a mandatory sentence for second-degree assault as 70 months, which means that if the man who hit my sister and me were sentenced today, he could be sentenced to 140 months in prison for two counts. It costs about $30,000 a year to incarcerate someone; that means taxpayers would pay between $175,000 and $345,000 today. If we subtract the estimated cost at the restitution center ($15,000), we end up with a minimum $160,000 cost to taxpayers. The most striking part of the costs of mandatory minimums versus what previously existed is that the resources tied up in the current system could be used instead for crime victims and survivors.


  • A new manual wheelchair costs $5,000, and needs replacing every five years. That $160,000 could buy 32 wheelchairs.

  • Each month I pay $400 for medical supplies related to my disability that aren’t covered by insurance; thats $4,800 a year. By reinvesting the money saved from smart sentencing reforms, health care related to my disability would be completely covered for 33 years.


When the victims of crime see a need to reform the justice system, does this provide enough of a compelling reason? Adding to the momentum of other arguments?? If so, who is listening? Make sure your politicians know that we all see the need for change.

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