April 19-25 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW), and Justice Fellowship, the public policy arm of Prison Fellowship, is examining the six values in its restorative justice framework that pertain to victims of crime.
Today, we highlight the restorative justice value of participation.
We understand that crime shatters lives and fractures communities, so the values in our framework work together to prioritize harmed parties, hold responsible parties accountable, and cultivate community engagement in the criminal justice process.
Because each human life has been created by God, we passionately believe that each life holds inherent dignity and value. This is the reason that we must respect the lives of victims. We must recognize the hurt and damage they have suffered, and punish those responsible swiftly and appropriately. We must work to ensure that they have an active role in the criminal justice process.
While there isn’t much argument against the idea that we should respect and support victims in general, there is less consensus on how our communities and criminal justice system do that specifically.
Prison Fellowship believes that first and foremost, victims need to be given proper standing throughout the criminal justice process. This requires a fundamental shift away from the current model used by our justice system. Today, if someone commits a crime, he is taken to court, and more often than not, his trial surrounds the question of whether or not he broke a law. But the primary issue that should be considered is whether or not someone was harmed by his actions.
Placing the emphasis on law has allowed the state to assume the role of the victim, pushing the real victim to the sidelines. Just look at the way most cases are structured. It’s typically in the form of defendant v. United States, or defendant v. State of Kansas, Florida, etc. Just from these titles, we can see that the government often takes on the position of the victim when that position should actually be given to the person or people directly harmed by the crime.
This is unhelpful in maintaining a correct view of crime and the right response to it. The individual who has suffered harm needs to be prioritized and heard. Victims must be given the ability to participate throughout the criminal justice process. The courts should enforce victims’ rights that ensure victims both know about the involvement they can have under the law, and have the opportunity to choose how much they want to exercise that right.
Victim participation includes the ability to offer impact statements, provide input on plea bargains, and give sentencing recommendations. Additionally, victims should be allowed to attend proceedings and meet with the responsible party if desired.
Restorative justice recognizes that most crimes harm individuals―not the government. Without the active participation of the victim, restorative justice fails.