Crime victim compensation should do more than just aid individuals who need to be made whole after suffering losses in a crime — it's also a potential key component in effective community violence prevention strategies. That's the argument made in a recent brief from the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University.
Authors John Maki and Heather Warnken make the case for strengthening and reforming crime victim compensation systems with an eye toward helping the people who are disproportionately harmed by both violence and flaws in the victim-aid system.
Maki, a fellow in the Litmus Program of the NYU Marron Institute, and Warnken, executive director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the University of Baltimore School of Law, detail a list of recommendations state and local victim-assistance program administrators and victim advocates can take to make crime victim services serve the ultimate goal of reducing victimization, particularly among society's most vulnerable.
Their paper's critique of what ails the existing system covers a range of structural and policy flaws, including:
an over-reliance on fees and fines to fund crime victim compensation programs, preying on the same community in greatest need of victim assistance and least able to afford crushing financial burdens;
overly restrictive rules denying financial aid to victims in ways that exceed federal law's requirements, fuel resentment and distrust, and ignore the reality that community violence often blurs the lines between victims and perpetrators;
delaying desperately needed help by making victims wait months for reimbursement of their expenses, rather than giving them aid immediately.
The net result, the report states, is an overly stingy system that could do much more to treat trauma and steer people toward safer lives, all of which would contribute to a broader violence-reduction strategy.
The report states:
Victims who are able to cover the costs associated with their victimization are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and other related conditions. Left untreated, these symptoms can have devastating effects on people’s lives, including loss of employment, substance use, an overreliance on emergency rooms to manage pain and suffering, and, too often, cycling through jail and prison.
Changing course requires changes in law, policy and practice that local advocates and administrators can seek, following four sets of recommended actions. Those recommendations center on learning more about this complex system and its problems and opportunities, supporting legislative and administrative reforms, and seeking increased state funding for crime victim compensation programs to reduce their reliance on fines and fees and to expand their resources to help more victims of community violence.