By Michaud, Peter A.
Corrections Today , Vol. 65, No. 5
Many respected, corrections professionals find it easy to simply acknowledge that crimes have victims. At the same time, these professionals find it difficult to see benefits for corrections becoming more victim-centered in philosophy and practice. This may reflect longstanding views of many experienced correctional staff seeking to protect the public and promote offender accountability. However, with today's renewed focus on offender re-entry into the community, there is an important opportunity for additional focus on crime victims' needs and interests. Doing so can improve corrections professionals' public safety role as they encourage released offenders to be responsible citizens.
Many of today's policy-makers and justice professionals recognize the importance of continually improving systemic responses to crime. Although a realistic solution for eliminating crime may never be found, there are ways to continue improving the correctional response to crime on behalf of victims, offenders and all citizens.
Responding To The Harm
In its simplest form, crime is behavior that harms someone. It is easy to acknowledge that most crimes have victims. Additionally, most crimes are deemed serious enough to be prosecuted by the state on behalf of its citizens. In corrections, most crimes are addressed in ways that are intended to correct. Correctional efforts to correct are generally viewed as a combination of punishment and opportunities for offender change. Equally critical to success is better integration of individual and systemwide re-entry initiatives with a sensible understanding of crime impacts and resulting victim needs.
Although different correctional jurisdictions vary in mission and scope, each strives to respond to factors influenced by the offenders' histories and actions. Prior record, instant offense and substance abuse are some of the typical factors being addressed. As inmates are poised to re-enter communities, much attention is focused on their individual needs. Employability, training and community-based support are critical for helping offenders successfully reintegrate into the community as responsible citizens.
Although crime can be simply defined as harmful behavior, the responses to crime tend to focus on much more complex factors. Addressing substance abuse, mental health and employability are examples of factors that have challenged correctional systems for many years. Another challenge is for corrections professionals to continually improve their responses to the harmful behavior itself. To successfully respond, corrections professionals must deal with the harm the offenders have caused. In order to do that, they must actively inform and involve the people who were harmed--the crime victims and community members.
A victim-centered approach to offender re-entry does not merely acknowledge that crimes have victims, nor does it dodge correctional responsibility for public safety and offender accountability. When properly implemented, such an approach enhances safety and accountability. Victims of crime are a central part of the public to be protected.
Being victim-centered promotes safety of the people already hurt and usually most anxious about the offenders' return to the community. It also encourages offenders to accept full responsibility for the harm they caused. Citizens personally experiencing the impact of crime bring an extraordinary perspective to correctional agencies striving for public safety. Crime victims have dealt with the offenders and the crime with truly firsthand knowledge and pain. If the aim is to correct or to help the offender "make it right," then the person harmed by the offending behavior has much to offer.
When addressing offenders' accountability, it is important to consider to whom they should be held accountable. As offending behavior harms real people, offenders should be responsible to those same people: crime victims and other community members. …