Who Needs Criminal Justice Reform?

The laws that led to historic levels of incarceration in the United States were often justified by claiming they supported the victims of crime. The idea that the victims of crime would automatically supporter tougher sentences and the erosion of the rights of accused was accepted without analysis. The criminal justice system should be designed to benefit society. That includes considering the rights of the accused as well as victims of crime. It certainly does not mean making unsupported assumptions about what any group should want.

A recent conference in California brought together a large number of crime survivors to discuss criminal justice policy with lawmakers. For anyone listening, it quickly became clear that more and tougher laws and sentences was not the majority position of even the victims of crime. The issue is too complex and too impactful for that. Part of the issue is that the criminal justice system seems to penalize many of the same people who are victimized by crime. Lower income communities are disproportionately represented in the community of crime victims.

The criminal justice policies this country has followed over recent decades have led to a massive financial expense and unimaginable harm to individuals and families caught in the wave. It appears that victims have been no better served than the accused in pursuing this course. If reform is to be accomplished, as it clearly should be, it is important to identify who stands to benefit most from new policies. Should the law benefit the owners of private prisons, or should it benefit the victims of crime and our society as a whole?


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