One morning Greg Browning was washing his car when a young man materialized beside him, wrestled him to the ground, broke his arm, and drove off with his car. Fortunately, the police quickly chased the thief down. Now justice would be done.
Or would it?
Greg and his wife Joan soon discovered that the courts have no place for victims of crime. They were not informed of hearing dates; they were not told when Greg’s attacker was released. To this day, they don’t even know if the man was ever convicted.
When Greg and Joan complained to the District Attorney, they were told, “This is not your case. . . . This was an offense against the state.” No matter that it was Greg who was assaulted, who paid the doctor bills, whose sense of security was shattered. Criminal cases are not considered crimes against the victims but against the state.
Congress will soon be taking up a major legislation package touted as an answer to the nation’s crime problem. But the package pays only token attention to victim’s rights. Real criminal justice reform has to begin by changing the way the government views crime itself: Crime is not only a violation of a law, it is also an assault upon a person.
And that person needs to be restored.
As a citizen, you may believe the criminal justice exists for your sake: to give you justice, help reclaim your losses. But you’re ever a victim of crime, you will be sadly disappointed. Prosecutors don’t represent victims, they represent the state.
In fact, in a court of law the victim’s only status is to be a witness for the prosecution. You will be given a chance to tell your story only if the prosecutor feels it will help the case. Otherwise, there is no official channel for you to express your pain and loss.
The good news is that victims rights organizations in several states are working to change that. Thirteen states have passed constitutional amendments that guarantee victims the right to be present at the trial and sentencing of their attackers. Some also give victims the right to receive restitution for their losses.
These are measures we should press for at every level of the criminal justice system. No crime bill worth its salt can ignore the plight of victims. We cannot claim to be “fighting crime” unless we are fighting the effects of crime in the lives of real people.
And you don’t have to wait for Congress to act either. There are some things no government can give. Comfort. Sympathy. Support. That’s why Prison Fellowship has a program called Neighbors Who Care?Christian volunteers who step in after the cops drive away. Neighbors Who Care volunteers will fix a door left broken after a burglary, drive a wounded victim to the hospital, or just offer a shoulder to cry on.
Call us here at BreakPoint for information about starting a Neighbors Who Care chapter in your church. With one hand, Christians should work to change the law.
And the other hand should be held out to a hurting neighbor.