By Paul Ashton
This week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and the theme is “30 Years: Restoring the Balance of Justice” (#NCVRW2014). In 2010, JPI organized a roundtable discussion that brought together criminal justice reform advocates and victim advocates to have a dialogue on how these two groups, that often times have been diametrically opposed, can work together on positive reforms that make communities safer for all people.
While the over-arching theme of the roundtable was to explore opportunities for dialogue and finding points of common ground, other areas of discussion included addressing who is a victim, the history and current status of the victims’ movement, and issues around services for victims. The day’s discussion resulted in the brief: Moving Toward a Public Safety Paradigm: A Roundtable Discussion on Victims and Criminal Justice Reform.
Since then, other organizations have carried the baton, working on finding common ground and building a cohesive reform movement to increase public safety and decrease the negative impact of the justice system. For instance, in 2011 the Partnership for Safety and Justice, a leader in this effort, released the concept paper Moving Beyond Sides: The Power and Potential of a New Public Safety Paradigm. And this week, the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) released its policy document A House Divided No More: Common Cause for Juvenile Justice Advocates, Victim Advocates, and Communities. NJJN takes an important look at the intersection of youth crime and victimization and how the current juvenile justice system fails everyone.
If there is one important theme from this work it is this: victims’ rights advocates and criminal justice reformers must continue to work together and advocate for change to ensure our justice system is cost effective, fair and works for everyone.
This theme is particularly important to me because of my work. See, I straddle these two worlds. I began my career as an advocate for sexual assault victims and I work daily at JPI to educate around the negative effects of mass incarceration on people and communities. And yes, to this day I continue to work on behalf of victims, particularly LGBTQ victims of domestic violence. I can tell you that it is not always easy to bridge the divide that exists between victims’ rights advocates and criminal justice reformers, but it is a necessary step to achieve what we are all looking for: a fair and just system – one that holds people accountable for their actions, recognizes the harm done to others and works to increase positive outcomes for all people and communities.
What I can tell you from my experiences is that our current justice system is far from that ideal and we must all work together to make it more cost effective, fair and ensure that it works for everyone, victims and those responsible.
Paul is research and grants coordinator at JPI.