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Victims in the War on Crime: The Use and Abuse of Victims' Rights

NCJ Number
196161
Author(s)
Markus D. Dubber
Date Published
2002
Length
407 pages
Annotation
This critical analysis of the role of victims in the criminal justice system as a whole focuses not only the victims of crime but also on the "victims" of the "war" on "victimless" crime.
Abstract
The author notes that two phenomena have shaped American criminal law for the past 30 years: the war on crime and the victims' rights movement. Politically, these two efforts are related, in that the war on crime has been waged on behalf of victims against offenders; i.e., arresting and convicting more offenders, who are then sentenced to lengthy prison terms is viewed as serving their victims. The victims' rights movement has thus provided a convenient cover for a campaign of mass incapacitation of offenders. To illustrate the inner workings of the war on crime, the author analyzes the theory and practice of possession offenses, in which persons are arrested, convicted, and even imprisoned for possessing something (a gun or a drug) that might be used by the person to harm someone, himself/herself included. In possession offenses, there is no victim, so victims' rights become irrelevant in the large number of possession offenses. The time has come to free victims' rights from their use as a tool of the achievement, maintenance, and expansion of state power. Victims' rights must be disconnected from the war on crime to become a cause worth pursuing for its own sake in providing services that target victim needs created by their victimization. Victim compensation programs focus on meeting the financial damage that a crime has done to a victim, and mental health services are designed to assist in healing the emotional trauma caused by the crime. Part of recovering the autonomy and sense of power a victim may have lost due to victimization is for the victim to become involved in the processing of the case. This is facilitated by notice of and inclusion in crucial case proceedings. Caution must be exercised, however, in ensuring that victim participation in the case does not compromise the rights of offenders. Victims' and offenders' rights must both be preserved in the criminal justice system. Chapter notes and a subject index