Can you work for the victim and the offender?
Jun 21, 2010
by Lisa Rea
I had two things happen to me recently that gave me pause. It is the story of two people. One is the story of a crime victim. The other is a story of an ex-offender.
The crime victim lost her husband to murder years ago in California. I've known this woman largely via email for many years as we both have worked for justice reform. This victim worked for an organization in California that often took positions regarding prison and sentencing policies than have not been positions I could support as an advocate of restorative justice. But regardless, she and I have been "friends". In time, I believe she saw me as a supporter of crime victims, something that I have worked hard to be. She was a good person and a nice human being.
I received a message recently letting me know that she was no longer employed. But also that things were tough for her. Really tough. She and her husband at one time owned a small business. And as I said, then tragedy hit. Her husband was murdered. This was many years ago but the effects are long lasting. I can only imagine what her life has been like since. But it hit me that we often do not think of the financial hardships experienced by crime victims. There are often no provisions made for victims like my friend to make sure that they can make a living, have their needs met and be able to go on with their lives. Restitution is discussed and sometimes included in the offender's sentence but who considers the long term effects of violent crime on victims? We can do a better job. A system based on restorative justice would acknowledge this need and respond to it. Ideally, the offender in her case would help to pay for her needs over many years. That is not always possible but it is preferable. But restitution should be paid and that support should be there. This is a "re-entry" need for victims of crime.
The other story is about my friend Kevin who I met through the church I attend. He was an ex-offender and the son of my friends Helen and Harley. I didn't know Kevin for long. But through the time I knew him he was struggling. He was in prison for low-level crimes, largely related to drugs. I did not know the details of his crimes. But he spent many years behind bars, both at the state level and not too long ago in a county jail. He had addiction problems--drugs, largely, but alcohol as well. I rejoiced with my friends Helen and Harley when the state gave Kevin a parole date state prison about a year ago. I rejoiced even more when Kevin was sitting in church with his parents. Once Kevin was out he made a mistake. We thought he could get a life sentence since he re-offended and it looked like it would be considered a third strike. California has a "Three Strikes and You're Out" statute so that third strike, which he had due to either his drug addiction or a parole violation, would have committed him back to prison for life. Her parents and I thanked God when the state agreed that Kevin could do some more time in a county jail then be released. But knowing the system as I do I think they sent Kevin to the county because there is no room for him in the state prison system (we are 200% overcrowding and rising).
Kevin and I got to know each other through the church. He was desperate for a job. He'd do anything and as I learned he was a good handyman. I contacted Prison Fellowship hoping to connect him with some kind of menial employment. But with this economy and his record (few hire ex-offenders in our society) it would be tough. At my church I have taught a small Bible study over the last year. Kevin attended a few times and showed his thorough understanding of the Bible and his heart for God. What a blessing it was to have him in my group. But still he struggled with his life and we all knew, especially his family, that he had demons he fought daily largely due to his drug/alcohol addiction.
Kevin died unexpected on Monday, June 14th of kidney failure which led ultimately to heart failure. He would have been 54 years old next month. Kevin's son had just returned from Afghanistan and the family was preparing a big glorious reunion in the next two weeks. Now they prepare for his memorial service on Saturday. My heart aches for the family and I mourn the loss of my friend Kevin.
My writing this is to ask whether we can work for both the victim and the offender ? We can. Can we care equally for both? Yes. Can we serve the needs of both? Yes, and we must do a better job. I know that Kevin got very little drug treatment while serving many years behind bars in California. He could have been an active member of society if he was not facing addiction. He could have perhaps learned how to make things right with the victims in his past. But he received little treatment for his addiction. Even after his serving time in a county jail the county suggested drug/alcohol treatment Kevin told me he never received follow up or guidance about where he was to get that treatment. Maybe by then his body was closing down slowly and it was too late.
For my woman friend, the murder victim, what could the system have done for her? More, yes. It still could. In a system based on restorative justice her needs would be met or at least there would be consistent efforts to address her needs. Pie in the sky? Maybe. But at this time little concern is paid crime victims long after crimes are committed and offenders have been sentenced and are serving. For Kevin, he might be alive today if he had received treatment while in prison or at the very least after he was released on parole. We can do better. Can we work for both the victim and the offender? Yes. Can we care for both?